Author: Harvey Mossman

Amateurs to Arms!: Board Game Review

A Decidedly Professional and Excellent Design

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Overview

It is currently the bicentennial of the war of 1812, a conflict that is often neglected and misunderstood by the participants. As Americans, we learn little about this conflict except for myths and folklore regarding the burning of Washington, the writing of our national anthem and Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. Perhaps, because the war ended indecisively, it has languished in the minds of Americans as to its true historical relevance. Ironically, most Americans feel that the United States was born to full maturity with the end of the American Revolution and the adoption of our Constitution. However, the War of 1812 was really a “second war for independence” which finally and forever established what New York journalist, Benson Lossing called, “the positive and permanent independence of the United States.”

It is therefore appropriate that there is renewed interest in the war gaming community regarding this conflict. Three games will have been published before year’s end on this topic. Few have dealt with the war in its entirety. Instead most choose to focus on the Canadian border where many of the important naval actions and campaigns occurred. Amateurs to Arms, a two player, card driven, strategic board game of the war of 1812 from Clash Of Arms, differs in this respect as it covers all the theaters in the continental United States and Canada.

Game Components

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The components are simply a beauty to behold. Clash of Arms is known for their beautiful graphics and Amateurs to Arms is no exception. The game map is based on a historical map of the United States published in 1812. It is a stunning work of art. Some may quibble that the historical detail is more aesthetic than functional as a number of the territories are rather small and the depicted country towns and frontier settlements may get lost in the background artwork. This is a very minor hindrance when actually playing the game. The map covers the eastern seaboard out to the Northwest Territories, and Upper and Lower Canada down to Florida and the Gulf Coast. In the Southwest, there is an area inhabited by the civilized Indian tribes. Unfortunately for the United States, these tribes can become belligerent during the course of the war and will often require protracted campaigns to pacify. Likewise the Northwest is an area of vast wilderness that can only be traversed by Rangers, Voyageurs and Indians (these units have circular counters rather than square counters for easy recognition). Settlements are classified as Major Cities, Minor Cities, Country Towns or Frontier Towns and restrict the type and amount of units that can be recruited. Some cities have Objective Stars that result in moves on your Peace Track if captured by the enemy (more on this later). Lake Erie, Ontario and Champlain are dotted with harbors and ports that are extremely important when fighting for control of these Great Lakes. The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are divided into sea zones which the British can blockade to lessen the American will to fight.

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The map also contains several necessary tracks including the Peace Track, Turn Record Chart and the status of Napoleon’s European wars. They are all quite colorful and very well-designed. All in all, the board is a wonderful combination of artwork and functionality.

The rules are printed on glossy magazine quality paper and have 13 pages of instructions with a two-page text and graphic example of play. The last page is a scan of the counter manifest which is helpful should a counter go missing. The writing style is almost conversational yet concise with few ambiguities. Every card driven game will have its quota of rules questions because of the complex interaction between card and rulebook text. Nevertheless, these rules have few ambiguities and can be easily digested in less than 30 minutes. None of the game mechanics are particularly complicated.

The unit counters represent historical leaders and strength points of Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Rangers, Voyageurs, Fencibles and Indians. There are also counters for various types of ships including Gunboats, Schooners, Brigs, Frigates, and Ships of the Line.

Although individual strength points can be placed on the map, most of the time units will be part of an Expedition that remains hidden from your opponent. These are represented on the map by round wooden pieces with lettered labels (yes you must apply the labels yourself) corresponding to separate unit holding boxes on your force display. Leaders and units in Land expeditions are kept secret from your opponent; however Lake Expeditions and ships in port or under construction are always known to your enemy.

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There is a great deal of unit differentiation in the game. Square counters represent Regulars, Volunteer Militia, Local Militia, Fencibles, Artillery and Cavalry. Artillery and Cavalry cannot be recruited like other units using operation points; rather, they enter the game by play of an event. Voluntary Militia are raised by the expenditure of operation points but must check for Dispersion (their reluctance to fight in enemy territory) if they try to move across national boundaries. Half of the militia is removed each winter turn and forces made up of more than half Militia suffer a negative combat modifier in combat. Since there never seems to be enough Regular units to go around (particularly for the British), Volunteer Militia will play a significant role in your army. However, they must be used judiciously. Light units include Rangers, Voyageurs and Indians. These are represented by round counters and are the only units that can enter the wilderness areas in the Northwest. Only the British can recruit Indians and only after they capture Fort Mackinac.

Ships come in several flavors including Gunboats, Brigs, Schooners, Frigates and Ships of the Line. Each type takes a variable amount of time to build with the larger ships taking longer but having more powerful combat strengths.

Historical leaders are represented by counters depicting portraits, rank and ratings for their Initiative and Tactical ability. Initiative represents the ease of movement and, for the United States player, how easy it is for them to track down belligerent Indian tribes. The Tactical rating is used to determine which column to use on the Combat Results Table. There are naval leaders, optional leaders, replacement leaders and leaders that enter play due to specific card events. Generally leaders are placed in a pool for random selection by the expenditure of operation points. Leaders can also be promoted from lowly one star leaders to three star leaders. Promotion allows them to move and command larger number of troops.

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Forts, represented by markers, are extremely important and can be built in levels from 1 to 4. Fortifications reduce combat losses and can be instrumental in determining who wins battles (see below). The fortification level can be reduced by combat. Woe to either side that neglects to build up their fortifications along the Great Lakes as loss of your shipbuilding ports will guarantee the enemy takes control of these vital waterways.

Stage roads can be built, again with the expenditure of operation points, to lower the movement point cost to enter other settled areas from 2 MPs to 1 MP. Sackett’s Harbor needs a road built to connect it with Fort Oswego to avoid higher costs and limitations in shipbuilding there. This represents the historical logistical limitations of transporting needed materials to this area.

Game set up is quick and straightforward. Each player has a Player Aid chart that also serves as a screen for his force display charts. This card depicts the initial unit placement graphically, which makes set up a snap. The player aid chart also has handy information regarding operation point costs, terrain effects, etc.

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The Turn Sequence

The turn sequence is as follows: first Troop Raised Markers that have been placed on country and frontier towns during the previous turn are removed. These markers are placed when units are recruited in these locales and limit any further enlistment during the current game turn.

Next, if this is a winter turn, several tasks are completed. The British must remove all Indians. Then players remove half of all their Voluntary Militia rounded down. Then supply is checked for all units resulting in the elimination for any units unable to trace. Finally all Lake Expeditions presently on the Great Lakes return to a friendly port or harbor. Starting in 1813, this will trigger Peace Track moves and is an important way of reducing your opponent’s will to fight.

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On the March-April turn, the Year marker is moved forward and the British player gets to place 2 Indian units with each of his Indian leaders in play. Once these turn specific upkeep tasks are completed, players are dealt a number of action cards according to the Turn Chart. Typically, the Americans will have more cards than the British player. The number of American cards can also be modified by the tactical rating of the current Secretary of War, the David Parrish card and by adverse modifiers on his Peace Track. If the players have saved cards from the previous turn they now add them to their hand.

Card Play

Play then proceeds in a series of rounds. In each round, players have three options. They can play a card for its Event or for its Operation Points (OPS). (Players can opt to Pass if their opponent has more cards.) It then becomes your opponent’s turn to play. Finally, you can Save a card by placing it face down on the table. If the card is a Reaction Card, it can still be played in the turn if the proper opportunity presents. Otherwise, saved cards will be available for your next turn but not the current one. This is an extremely interesting mechanic. How often in other card driven games do you get a card that is not immediately useful yet may be powerful in the future, given the right situation? The saved card option gives you a chance to hold these cards for later turns when they may better affect on-board circumstances. However, this option is a double-edged sword as saving the card means you are not doing anything else on your card play. If a player attempts to build a perfect hand by saving too many cards, he will find himself severely pressed by an opponent who is active with operation point expenditures and events. This simple but subtle mechanism adds wonderful tension to a game already filled with challenging decisions.

As is typical in most card driven games, the cards can be played for either the events or the operation points. I have found, that in order to design an exciting card driven game, the events must be powerful and effective to provide extreme tension in deciding how best to utilize your hand. This is where Amateurs to Arms truly shines. The historical events are interesting and powerful, constantly enticing you from the necessity of performing Ops. This game focuses on making correct decisions and setting priorities. You will be distracted to no end trying to decide whether event plays or operations are most critical. This is one of the most stimulating and enjoyable aspects of the game.

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Some cards are Reaction Cards, which can be played during your opponents move as a response to his actions. Other cards, such as the Napoleon cards, must be played in the current turn and can never be saved. Still other cards must be removed from the deck after their event is played.

Napoleon cards represent the rise and ebb of Napoleon’s career. When Napoleon Suffers a Setback is played, a marker is moved down the Napoleon status track. The location of this marker affects various other events in the game including British commitment to the war and the flow of British Army Regulars to the North American continent. It also can cause Peace Track movement for the British player. In one simple mechanic, the designers have admirably portrayed the effects of the European war on the British and American conflict.
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Cards may also be played for their Operation Points (Ops) which can be expended in many ways. How you apportion your operations will largely determine whether your war effort will be successful. There are so many things you need to do and you simply don’t ever have enough Ops to do them all. This is where players must set their priorities and stay focused on achieving specific goals lest they get distracted by enemy actions and events. Small mistakes at this point can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, if you are trying to keep pace with enemy ship building on one of the Great Lakes and then get sidetracked by playing an event, you will later realize this seemingly innocuous distraction has cost you control of the lake. Consequently you now have limited ability to successfully utilize your land forces along these critical waterways. Suddenly a planned land campaign becomes infeasible which relieves pressure on your enemy thereby allowing him to divert resources to another area. All of this because of one little distraction! So, a word to the wise….don’t lose focus. You will quickly realize that one small mistake can have ramifications that snowball later in the war. This is just another aspect that makes Amateurs to Arms so challenging.

Activating an expedition for movement or combat and the building or upgrading of forts requires the expenditure of all the operation points on the card. Additionally, when activating an expedition, enough operation points must be expended to equal or exceed the leader’s Initiative value. Forts are upgraded by expending enough operation points to equal the new level of fortification. They can only be upgraded one step at a time. Forts can be built in any Controlled area or Wilderness location or anyplace containing a friendly unit. They can even be built in an area where there is an enemy fort.

If you are not activating expeditions or fortifying, you can split operation points in nearly any manner desired. You can Raise TroopsDraw Leaders from your leadership pool, Build Ships, Build Roads, Place Blockades, etc. with the same card. Military Blockades cost three operation points and are limited to the British player beginning in 1813. They are required to start utilizing Sea Movement into US controlled areas and in 1814 they can be increased to Full Blockades for additional three operations points. Each Full Blockade placed moves the American Peace Track marker forward one space.

As stated above, Stage Roads can be built between two areas a player controls at a cost of two operations points. Their effect is to reduce movement point cost between the two areas and reduce shipbuilding costs for certain ports.

Troops can be Raised in non-enemy occupied, friendly home controlled areas, that contain a Major city, Minor city, Country town or Frontier town. You can raise different types of troops in the same city but there is a limit to the number of operations points that can be spent in one location. If you raise units in a Country town or Frontier town, a Troops Raised Marker is placed which prevents further recruiting in that area until the next turn. Certain specialty troops such as Rangers and Voltigeurs can only be raised in frontier towns.

OPS can also be used to build ships in ports that have been previously activated. Activation of a port costs OPS as indicated on the Port chart. You build the ship by expending Ops equal to the cost depicted on the first box on the Port chart. The ships are placed face down on the Port track so as to hide their type from your opponent and subsequent expenditures of operations points moves them further along by one box per action card played. Larger ships obviously cost more OPS to move along and take longer to produce. Once the ship reaches the box indicating completed construction, it is flipped face-up and revealed to your opponent. Should your expedition currently be on the lake (as opposed to being in Port), the ship will immediately join the expedition. It is more difficult to build in Sackett’s Harbor until the American player builds a Stage Road between Sackett’s Harbor and Fort Oswego. For the British, Amherstburg costs more to build ships if the American player controls Lake Erie. No ships may be built there if the Americans control Lake Ontario. The limitations on Sackett’s Harbor and Amherstburg represent the difficult logistics of the time.

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If an enemy land expedition takes control of one of your ports, incomplete ships are destroyed and completed ships in Port must move out on the lake, possibly into the hands of a waiting enemy Lake expedition. If you do not win the resulting naval combat, all of your ships are sunk. Therefore, players must be extremely prickly about protecting their ports. Adequate land forces and substantial fortifications are necessary to prevent the very demoralizing experience of losing an expensive fleet to an enemy land expedition.

It cost one operations point to draw new leaders from your leader pool. However, they must be pre-designated as to where they will be placed though their identities remain secret. Leader ranks include 1, 2 and 3 star generals that may command and move 5, 10, 20 land strength points respectively.

Movement

Movement is performed with the expenditure of operations points. For the cost of 1 OPS, a single strength point can be moved on the map individually but is restricted to friendly controlled, non-wilderness, non-enemy occupied areas. Expeditions cost all of the OPS on the action card. Additionally, the card must have OPS equal to or greater than the initiative rating of the commanding leader. As above, the rank of the commanding leader determines how many strength points may be moved. Each expedition moves 4 movement points. Most areas can be entered for two movement points unless traveling along a Stage Road or along a river. Lake movement transits units between coastal areas of the Great Lakes as long as lake is not enemy controlled.

Civilized Indian tribe areas cost all 4 movement points to enter unless moving along a Frontier road or a River. Movement along a Wilderness Trail requires a die roll to succeed and only light units (i.e. circular counters) can attempt this. Every time a player moves an expedition containing Voluntary Militia or Fencibles across a national boundary these units must roll for dispersion. On a roll of zero, none will cross but other units of the expedition must complete their move. On a roll of 1, 2 or 3, half of the units refuse to go across. This represents the hesitancy of the militia to fight in areas outside their home territory and makes it challenging to invade enemy territory with substantial forces.

Sea movement may be utilized by the British player between ports or to any “at sea” box of another sea zone. The British player must have the sea zone under military blockade or full blockade and the sea movement stops when an enemy controlled area is entered.

The British have two special units that can become quite a problem for the American player. The Coastal Raid expedition is led by Admiral Cockburn and is activated by the play of an event card. This force is used to raid American coastal cities. Its net effect is to draw militia from other areas to the coast to defend against the raid. Successful raids can lead to American Peace Track moves. Additionally the British have the Invasion Fleet. This arrives once Napoleon is defeated. Admiral Cochrane can use this special expedition to invade American territories along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It requires a land leader to command any land forces brought by the Invasion Fleet. In the early part of the war, when the British must by necessity remain on the defensive until adequate reinforcements arrive from England, these special units are best used to distract the American player from invading Canada. Later, the Invasion Fleet can be used to land substantial forces along the Atlantic seaboard in the hopes of stretching the American defenses to the breaking point.

Supply

Supply is checked when forces are involved in combat and in the winter turns. Essentially, the British supply source is the Sea and the American supply source is any American major city. To be in full supply, the path must follow all water routes along rivers or the Great Lakes. For partial supply, any path will do except Wilderness trails. If units are completely cut off and unable to trace a supply path, they are considered unsupplied. Supply limits the number of strength points that can take part in combat. A Full Supply expedition can utilize up to 20 strength points, Partial Supply reduces this to 10 strength points and unsupplied limits this to 5 strength points. Cleverly, these limitations are indicated on the combat results table. Winter is the only time units that are unsupplied will be eliminated. This is done after the mandatory removal of Indians and Voluntary Militia.

Land Combat

Combat occurs when an enemy expedition enters a friendly area or when an expedition already in an area is activated for combat. If the enemy enters a friendly area containing a Major, Minor city or Country town, you’re able to roll one 10 sided die to raise local militia. A roll of zero means no local militia comes to your aid. Otherwise 1-9 strength points join the fray (if the battle takes place in a Country town this number is half). These forces are temporarily added to your defense and can take losses but will disappear immediately after combat.

Combat between land expeditions can be quite a surprise since these units are kept secret behind the player screens on their expedition charts. Players simply state the size of the force that will be utilized (taking into account the limitations of supply) and the tactical rating of one of their leaders in the expedition. Appropriate modifiers are applied and die rolls are made by each player using the tactical ratings column of the commanding leader in their expedition. You get a -1 to the die roll if more than half your force consists of local and/or volunteer militia. If a force solely of Indians is attacking a Fort you receive a -2 modifier. However, if the battle occurs adjacent to a Great Lake that you control, you get a +2 modifier.

A numeric result on the combat results table inflicts that many losses on the enemy. However this number is reduced by one per level of friendly fortification in the area. Asterisks on the table indicate the success of your maneuver against the enemy. For each asterisk you roll, your opponent must remove one non-militia unit for one of his losses. He must also reduce any forts that he has in the area by one level per asterisk. If you inflicted more asterisk results than your opponent, he must retreat. However, forts will “absorb” one asterisk per Fort level (before they are reduced by enemy inflicted asterisks). If both sides have equal number of asterisks then no one retreats. The side inflicting the most casualties, however, is considered the winner of the battle. A land combat is considered a Devastating Loss when you have won the combat and the enemy has lost five or more strength points regardless of your own losses. This will result in a move of your opponent’s Peace Track. A land combat is considered a Major Victory when you win the combat and obtain two more asterisks then your opponent (not counting any absorbed by fortifications). This also moves your opponent’s Peace Track marker forward. If all of the units in an expedition are lost in combat, your opponent’s Peace Track marker moves forward yet again. All of these events can occur in one combat!

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Civilized Indian combat is triggered when an American player moves an expedition into the Belligerent Tribes Area or activates an expedition that is already in the area. The American player immediately makes a die roll adding the Initiative rating of the expedition leader. If the modified die roll is 7 or less the expedition has located an Indian force. The British player then rolls one 10 sided die to determine the size of the force. A normal land combat then ensues. If the American player wins the combat he rolls one die to determine if the loss has broken the morale of the tribe causing them to sue for peace. The die roll must be equal to or less than the size of the Indian force defeated. If this occurs, the Belligerent Tribe Marker is flipped to the Defeated side and the British Peace Track marker is moved forward one space. If the American wins the combat but does not defeat the tribe, he will get a -1 modifier on his next die roll when trying to locate that particular tribe again. This is a very clever mechanic. Once the American player finds a belligerent Indian tribe he has to hope that it is large enough so that any victory will defeat the whole tribe. However, the bigger the force he finds the more likely he will lose the ensuing combat or take significant losses. It is an interesting and often frightening conundrum.

Naval Combat

When 2 naval expeditions try to occupy the same Great Lake, naval combat occurs. Essentially, each player lines his fleet up in descending order of combat strength and pairs of opposing ships fight. If one side has excess ships he may double up on one or more of his opponent’s ships. However no enemy ship may ever be assigned to fight more than two friendly ships. Your naval leader is placed with the first ship on your line (essentially your flagship for the battle). His Tactical rating modifies every subsequent naval combat die roll as you go down the line with each pairing of ships rolling against the other. Your ship’s combat strength and leader’s tactical rating is added to a 10 sided die roll. The lower total will suffer an adverse combat effect. If the difference is 1 or 2, the loser simply withdraws from combat. A difference of 3 sinks the loser’s ship. A deficit of 4 or more and the losing ship is captured by the enemy to be later replaced with a ship unit of his own color. A tie results in the pair of ships continuing to the next round of combat. Once all the ships in the battle line fire a new round is begun and the defender must decide whether he is going to retreat back into port. If he stays the attacker now has the option to withdraw. If both fleets remain on the lake another round of combat will ensue realigning the ships as before. Combat ends when one fleet solely occupies the Lake.

Naval leaders are extremely important since their tactical rating positively modifies all your ships’ die rolls down the line. Therefore, it is best to have at least one ship with a high combat rating to serve as your leader’s flagship since this ship will make the first naval combat die roll of the battle. Should the flagship be withdrawn, sunk or captured, you will lose the benefit of your leader’s tactical rating for the rest of the engagement. This can be devastating and quite elegantly represents the importance of naval leadership on the Great Lakes. Therefore, I strongly recommend building at least one high combat value ship on each lake before entering naval combat.

Example of Naval Combat

The British have their Lake Erie naval expedition (ER) on the lake thereby controlling it. This expedition is led by Admiral Barclay who has a tactical rating of 1. He has 2 Brigs, 2 sloops and 1 gunboat. Though outnumbered, American Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry decides to leave port and enter Lake Erie with the American naval expedition consisting of 1 Brig 1 Sloop and 2 gunboats. Indeed he is a brave and daring man who is confident in his tactical ability (his rating is 3)! Each side forms up their line (see below) with the Brigs serving as each admiral’s flagship and the British extra gunboat assigned to help the British flagship.
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These exchange the first broadsides. Barclay’s flagship rolls a 2 which is added to the strength of his Brig (5) and Gunboat (1) as well as his tactical rating of 1 yielding a total of 9. Perry rolls a 2 adding 5 for the combat strength of his Brig and 3 for his own tactical rating achieving a sum of 10. Barclay must withdraw, consequently depriving the rest of his battle line his tactical leader bonus.

The next exchange of fire is between the British brig and the American sloop. Die rolls are 2 and 6 respectively yielding totals of 7 for the British (5 combat strength + 2 die roll) and 11 for the Americans (2 Combat Strength + 6 die roll + 3 Perry’s tactical ratings).The difference is 4, which results in the British brig being captured by the Americans. When this naval combat has concluded the Americans will replace this brig with a brig of their own color and make it part of their Erie Lake expedition. Obtaining ships through capture is certainly less costly than building them.

Next in line is the British sloop against an American gunboat. Die rolls are 6 and 4 respectively resulting a tie with both gaining results of 8. This broadside fire was inconclusive and the ships have the option to stay for the next round of combat.

Finally we have British sloop versus the American gunboat with die rolls of 7 and 2 yielding tallies of 9 for the British and 6 for the American. Since the British win by 3, the American gunboat is sunk.
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Both sides have ships remaining on the lake in their expeditions. Since the British are the defenders they first decide whether they will remain on the lake to continue combat or withdraw to a port. They correctly decide to withdraw since they are outnumbered and the American player has some higher-rated ships with a tremendous advantage in tactical leadership now that Barclay has withdrawn. The combat ends with the American ER expedition in control of the lake. Oliver Hazard Perry’s sends his famous message to Congress, “We have met the enemy and they are ours!”

The Secretary of War

The American player begins the game with the portrait of William Eustis indicated on the Secretary of War box. He can be replaced by any American 2 star or 3 star leader simply by paying operation points equal to or greater than the leader’s initiative. Each turn, the American player will receive one additional card per point of the new Secretary of War’s Tactical rating. James Munro can become Secretary of War by the play of an event card.

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A competent (i.e. leader with a high tactical rating) Secretary of War should be considered an immediate American war aim. The extra cards delivered by the Secretary of War’s tactical rating will, on average, yield three additional operation points each turn. It may also provide that one crucial needed event earlier in the game. As there is so much to do and never enough Ops, this added bonanza can be crucial to the successful administration of the United States war effort. Replace Eustis as early as feasible in the game in order to get the most advantage of extra cards over the long haul.

The Peace Track

Ultimately, you are fighting to break the will of your enemy to continue the war and bring him to the negotiating table. This is admirably represented by the Peace Track. Each player has a marker that starts at opposite ends of the Peace Track. Certain game events, such as Devastating Losses, Major Victories, implementation of a Full Blockade by the British, defeat of a Belligerent Indian tribe, etc. will move a player’s Peace Track marker forward along its track. Event cards can also affect the Peace Track markers. When both the American and British Peace Track markers end in the same space, Peace is declared and the Treaty of Ghent negotiations begin.

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Each player now determines his Ghent number by adding up points for control of Wilderness locations, Frontier or Country towns, Minor and Major cities, etc. The American player also gets points for defeating Belligerent Tribes and the British player gets points for tribes that remain Belligerent. If the Indian Nation card is in play, 8 Ghent points may be accrued by the player controlling certain Wilderness areas. The sum of all these items results in the player’s Ghent number. The player with the higher total subtracts the other player’s number and divides the result by 4 rounding fractions up. This is the Final Ghent number that moves the pair of Peace Track markers that many spaces backwards towards a higher level of victory. Each player then can play one more action card while news of the Peace treaty travels across the Atlantic. Card events that will move the Peace track marker are ignored since it is too late for these to affect the peace. However, Devastating Losses, eliminating enemy expeditions, capture of Major cities or defeat of Belligerent tribes still can affect the Peace track. The final location of the pair of Peace Track markers indicates the final victory result.

General Player Strategies

This game is all about setting priorities and executing proper decisions. And boy oh boy, are you faced with innumerable decisions. In fact, with all the options between card events and operation point expenditures, it is extremely easy to get distracted from your objectives and lose the game. First and foremost, the players must realize that Peace Track moves win the war. Therefore, all efforts should be made to keep your opponent’s Peace Track moving forward. Your own strategy should obviously be to minimize your Peace Track moves. Therefore, try not to fight battles that may result in enemy Major Battle Victories, Devastating Losses or elimination of your expeditions. Major city capture, defeating Belligerent tribes, card events, and control of the Great Lakes also move the Peace Track marker so your strategic planning should be aimed at achieving these events.

In the beginning of the game, the British player will be faced with a daunting problem. He has too few Regulars and a hand size deficit compared to the American player. Therefore, he will have fewer operation points forcing him to be defensive early on. Right out-of-the-box he should take Fort Mackinac whose control is required for British recruitment of Indians and is necessary to fulfill the Indian Nation card event. This card is worth 8 Ghent points once the peace treaty is signed. It also opens up another theater of operations that the American player must consider. Therefore it is highly valuable. Second, he must start to activate ports on the Great Lakes and initiate an aggressive shipbuilding program. Control of the Great Lakes is imperative as British full supply status depends on an unfettered naval route to the sea. Particularly vulnerable is control of Lake Erie since the Americans have a very capable naval leader in the guise of Oliver Hazard Perry. Therefore, a strong fleet will be needed to contest this important lake.
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When the Coastal Raiding expedition enters play, it should be used aggressively. This is a wonderful chance to cause American Peace Track moves and divert American militia from defending other important areas around the United States. Likewise, once Napoleon is defeated, the British Invasion Fleet should be used to capture Major and Minor cities along the vulnerable Atlantic and Gulf coasts and open up a new front for the United States player to concern himself.

In 1813, the British player should start to invoke Military Blockades in all of the American sea zones. This will allow Full Blockades to be implemented in 1814. Remember, each Full Blockade moves the American Peace Track marker thereby furthering your strategic objective.

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When Napoleon is defeated, the British gets an influx of excellent British regulars. It is at this point that the British should institute a full-court press of the Americans in every theater of war. The Coastal Raiding expedition and Invasion Fleet ought to be used to maximum effect. Strong land expeditions must start capturing American ports on the Great Lakes to secure your line of supply. Other expeditions should be sent deep into the American interior to try to take as many victory points areas as possible. All of this activity ought to generate a significant number of Peace Track moves for the American player as well as providing a substantial number of Ghent points.

The American player strategy can be even more bewildering. He has a large northern frontier to defend, a long and exposed coastline and the potential for civilized Indian tribes to become Belligerent in his rear areas. Moreover, the British can open up another theater in the Northwest Territories by play of the Indian Nation card. Additionally, his Great Lakes ports are poorly fortified, some Major cities are vulnerable to attack and he has few Regular units to oppose the well-trained British Army. And if that is not enough, he must prosecute the war with truly inept leaders!

Initially, his focus should be on fortification of his ports on the Great Lakes, activating ports, building the road to Sackett’s Harbor and doggedly building ships. Loss of control of even one of the Great Lakes can be devastating to the British player so a shipbuilding program on the Great Lakes will often force the British to react in-kind. As the American ports are vulnerable to capture, British focus on shipbuilding may postpone an early invasion to capture one of your ports.
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The American player must use his card hand advantage to build fortifications and recruit troops to defend the important ports. It can be devastating to lose an entire fleet to a British land expedition! Don’t let this happen! Build up your forts and recruit at least a few regulars to defend them.

Due diligence regarding Belligerent tribes is also important. They require a concerted effort to defeat and it is likely that more tribes will become belligerent over time. If Spain enters the war, the Indians get particularly restless adding 6 points to their combat strength. This can be devastating. Defeating Belligerent tribes keeps focus on your objectives as it moves the British Peace marker forward. Often you will need to recruit a general with a lower initiative to prosecute this campaign. This makes it easier to locate Belligerent tribes so that you may defeat them. However, make sure you place adequate strength points in the expedition against the Indians. It is possible that you will come up against a particularly large force and, with bad die rolls, lose your entire expedition causing your Peace Track to move forward.

If you have any operations points to spare, it is always a good idea to get a leader with a decent tactical rating as Secretary of War. Gaining extra cards each turn means more operation points which are sorely needed. This is particularly important if you are getting negative hand size modifiers from your Peace Track.

In general, the players must set their priorities and always keep in mind their objectives. It is very easy in this game to be seduced to play an Event when you really need to play Ops to further important endeavors like shipbuilding. Getting behind in the naval race on the Great Lakes can be fatal. Therefore, players should only play the card event if it unambiguously works toward achieving your objectives. Otherwise, the operation points are usually needed.

One caveat to this is cards that move your opponent’s Peace Track marker. These almost always should be played for the Event. After all, the further your opponent’s Peace Track is moved by the time the Treaty of Ghent is signed, the less impact the final Ghent number will have on your level of victory. The Americans have poorly led troops making it often difficult to achieve Major Victories or Devastating Losses to move the British peace marker. Therefore, particularly for the United States, card events that do it for you are priorities.

Summary

I am a longtime war gamer and this is the only game that comes to mind that covers the entire war of 1812. It is an amazingly clean and subtle design that effortlessly reflects the military, diplomatic and political themes of this often neglected conflict. It is appropriate that such a fine game be published on the topic during the war’s Bicentennial. The game is graphically beautiful with rules clearly presented and easily digested in less than 30 minutes. The depth of play and required decision-making is extraordinary and the designers have achieved almost a perfect tension between uses of card events vis a vis operation point expenditures. On each turn players are faced with a staggering number of dilemmas with too few operation points to respond to them all. Agonizing decisions require that players prioritize or else they will foolishly misdirect precious resources from their true objectives. Every action by your opponent is a potential threat which triggers a necessary reaction even though it may be unaffordable in operation point expenditures. Crucial assessments as to where to apply your operation points, when to play events or whether to save cards provide compelling challenges and the historical card event narratives propel players forward each turn while they watch the Peace Track markers move inexorably toward their final rendezvous.

Some may not enjoy this game because there are few sweeping movements or large, bold campaigns. This game is not for Panzer pushers who expect blitzkrieg campaigns and bold strokes. It plays more like a fencing match as you try to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses, parry his thrusts and deliver a series of decisive blows that eventually breaks his will. This game is more cerebral than dashing. Nevertheless it still has its share of climactic naval battles on the Great Lakes and dramatic land engagements. The American player will truly feel the frustration of President Madison who tried to execute a war with an amateur army, incompetent leadership and a paucity of resources. Likewise, the British will be challenged by the lack of homeland commitment while Britain is engaged with Napoleon and the vast expanse of United States territory they must conquer to be successful. This is one of the best representations of the historical experience that was the war of 1812.The designers and Clash of Arms have created a masterpiece of the card driven genre that finally does justice to what some call “America’s Second Revolution.”

Winning American Strategies for 1812: The Invasion of Canada

Overview

This year, Academy Games added another fine game to their line up with 1812: The Invasion of Canada.  Using simple rules, interesting combat mechanics and a card driven system, they have created an elegant and subtle strategy game that can be enjoyed by both Grognards and newcomers to our hobby. Many players, in their early experience with the game, quickly realize that it is extremely challenging to win as the American player.  This is historically accurate as the American war effort was ill-conceived, ineptly led, and hastily organized.  We will try here to give you some general American play and strategy tips to overcome the British advantages.
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British Advantages

The mechanics and design give the British player several advantages.  First and foremost, the British have three factions, while the Americans have only two. Since you’re able to move an Army as long as one unit of a faction is represented, the British player has tremendous flexibility and strategic mobility as the Brits are able to move three times per round compared with the Americans two. In fact, frequently the British will have consecutive moves allowing them to penetrate deeply into the hinterlands after their initial move breaks through the American frontline.

British Muster Areas are also geographically closer to the front line than the American Muster Areas. They are also more numerous (three printed on the map or four if you count the special Native American ability to recruit where they already have Native American unit present). This results in Fled British units returning to the fight more quickly than American units who must use precious movement cards to march to the front.

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Even more importantly, the British Army is qualitatively better than the American. This superiority derives from two factors.  The number of Hits, Command Decisions and Flee results on British dice compared to American dice and the fact that the British Army can roll a maximum of 8 dice in combat, (2 for British Regulars and 3 each for the Canadian Militia and Native Americans) compared to the Americans 5 dice, (2 for the American Regulars and 3 for the American Militia).  In this game, when a player rolls combat dice his own units may Flee (and are removed from the board to return later in subsequent rounds).  Since the Americans have more Flee results on their combat dice, they are more likely than the British player to harm themselves when rolling in combat.   Therefore every time the American player rolls, on average, he will inflict 1.5 losses on the British and likely lose an equal amount of his own units to Flee results.  On average the British will inflict three losses on the Americans with only one of their units Fleeing. This means, in a big battle, the American player can expect to remove four or five units from his army each battle turn.  Needless to say, American armies melt away rather easily.

The British Native American allies are especially dangerous as they have the special ability to execute a Command Decision into unoccupied enemy Homeland Areas. Therefore, American units must occupy all Homeland victory point objectives lest the Indians start spreading through the interior like a virus.

Finally, although both sides must defend 7 land crossings, Albany, a critical American Muster Area and several others victory point objectives are vulnerable to a British Army descending down the Hudson River by play of a Warship card. Therefore, the Americans have to defend all the usual crossings, plus the Hudson River. The British have no corresponding geographical problem.


Successful American Play

A winning American strategy must overcome all these British advantages while magnifying the American advantages of superior movement and more powerful Special Cards.  These suggestions, by necessity, cannot be very specific because of the variability of card play, turn sequence order and initial setup.  We can only provide broad principles and leave the operational planning to you.

Let’s first look at the basic tenets that must guide American strategy.

Patience Is a Virtue

The American player should not feel compelled to immediately invade Canada.  Your armies are at a qualitative disadvantage and the Homeland First Fire Rule can be devastating to occupying armies.

Instead, try to keep the victory point score close and prolong the game as long as possible.  There is a subtle shift in advantage as the game progresses since the British player will be using up his movement cards thereby becoming progressively less mobile.  Furthermore, a longer game gives the American player a chance to “perfect his hand” for the final push that should bring him victory (see below). Patience is a virtue when playing the American side.

Move Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee

The American player should always try to avoid big battles early in the game, particularly when not in their own Homeland areas.  Remember that the Americans are qualitatively disadvantaged compared to British armies that contain units from all three British factions.

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Therefore, the American player best utilizes his forces by striking in small packets against weakly defended areas.  He should not make any large invasion of Canada until near the end of the game. In the early turns, he should strike at isolated Canadian Victory Point objectives that are held by one or two Canadian units. This puts the Canadians on the defensive reacting to American moves.  They will need to waste precious Army moves, of which they have fewer than the Americans, to regain lost Homeland Victory Point areas.

Prescott and Kingston are usually weakly defended by the Canadians early in the game and, if captured by the Americans, cuts off the flow of British regulars from Eastern Canada to Western Canada. Capturing these areas with a small force of two regulars and two and three militia will not allow you to hold for long, but will prompt a British response. The Fishing Boat cards are also particularly useful for raiding Canadian Victory Point objectives. These little incursions keep the British player off-balance and force him to utilize movement for the protection of Homeland areas rather than invading the United States.

Protect Your Muster Areas

Protection of your muster areas is extremely important as loss of one of these areas will result in reduced Enlistments and limited options for placement of returning Fled units. American combat dice result in more Flee results than the British; therefore you will have forces returning to your Muster Areas frequently. The loss of Pittsburgh or Albany causes these returning units to be placed in a muster area that is usually far from the theater where these units are needed.

Additionally, the Americans get more Enlistments than the British but this advantage is negated if your Muster areas have been captured. Therefore, when setting up the 12 optional units, fill in the holes along your border so that the British cannot penetrate to your Muster areas should they move three turns consecutively (a greater than 60% chance on the first turn alone). Therefore it is imperative to place a unit in the border space between Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg and possibly populate other areas leading to Albany that are not initially friendly occupied. Remember that the British can move a mixed faction Army along the Hudson River to the space just east of Albany. Should they move consecutively they can then attack Albany before the Americans can even react. Therefore, it is a good idea to leave a strong force in Albany.
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Although Pittsburg is less vulnerable, the American player still has to be careful if the British make a water move to the space just west of Erie since they can then attack Pittsburgh with their next faction move. Loss of one of these critical reinforcement areas can allow British forces to go wild before friendly forces can be brought from the other theater.

Plan a Defense in Depth

The American player must be extremely sensitive to the ability of Native Americans to Command Decision into unoccupied enemy territory. This can be particularly galling when, during a battle, several British command decisions are rolled. The Native American can first move into the unoccupied enemy territory claiming control and be followed by other British factions that now execute their Command Decision into the newly claimed territory. In this way, a substantial British Army can be “retreated forward” deep into the American homeland. Moreover, the ability for the Native Americans to recruit another Native American unit in any area that they already occupy becomes particularly vexing as the Native Americans start to infest American Homeland territories like a virus. To guard against this, at least a militia unit should be left behind in any area you attack from and territories behind your front lines should likewise be occupied.
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This is particularly important around Buffalo, Fort Niagara and out west in Detroit since there are several Victory Point objectives vulnerable to Indian Command Decisions. The easiest time to fill in these gaps is with your optional unit deployment on the initial setup.

Move Units Forward From Muster Areas in an Efficient and Coordinated Fashion

The American player should avoid the urge to move newly Enlisted and returned Fled units immediately forward from their Muster areas. It is best to allow large armies to accumulate so that the units can be moved forward efficiently with one Army movement. The objective is to have these forces move to a central location where subsequent moves can allow them to splinter in different directions to recapture or attack critical victory point areas. This is particularly crucial towards the end of the game when you are going to use your Special Cards to implement an overwhelming counterattack. It is necessary that this be set up correctly.

Optimize Card Play to Achieve the Perfect Endgame Hand

The Americans must optimize their use of their Special Cards since these tend to be more powerful than the British. There are three cards that can yield a game-winning combination if played together on the last turn of the game:  the American War Hawks card, the William Harrison card and the Militia card, Kentucky Militia. Early on, if these cards are not yet in your hand, you should play as many cards as possible to drill through your deck until these particular cards appear. Then, judiciously move forward the larger armies accumulated at your Muster areas to central locations where they can attack multiple victory point objectives. The War Hawks card is extremely powerful as it allows you to move up to double the number of armies depicted on your movement card. If played with a movement card of four armies, it will allow you to move eight instead, potentially resulting in the capture of eight victory point spaces. This card can be devastating when your larger armies are properly positioned and it is played on the last move of the game.
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The William Harrison card will allow one force that makes a successful attack to attack again into an adjacent area thus possibly gaining another victory point objective. The Kentucky militia card is best played when several decisive battles are about to be fought in the same turn since its effects apply to all battles in the turn.

The American player must resist the urge to use these cards early in the game.  In general, the longer the game goes on the more the advantage shifts to the Americans since it he is more likely to collect these powerful cards. In fact one British strategy is to try to quickly burn through their decks in order to play all of their Truce cards and end the game before the American can obtain these powerful events.

Time the Play of Your Truce Cards to End the Game When it is Most to Your Advantage

The dénouement for all your careful play will come in the last turn of the game.  Therefore, the American player must hope to end the game at a time of his own choosing. This is not always easy as the British can burn through their deck to get their Truce cards out early. This may prevent you from accumulating the perfect endgame hand and could preempt your last turn counterattack.  However, the British must play three Truce cards while the American player can end the game with just two.

If possible, play both Truce cards when the turn order cube sequence favors your American Regular faction moving towards the end of the round. Unfortunately, you will have to have a little bit of luck and hope that the British cubes come up early in the round.  If the last turn of the game is controlled by the British, you will be forced to make your counterattack early and as devastating as possible in an effort to accumulate more victory points than the subsequent British faction moves can retake.

The American Winning Strategy

A typical winning strategy for the American player in 1812: The Invasion of Canada should proceed as follows.  On the initial setup, the American player should create a defense in depth by filling in important areas that initially contain no friendly units so as to block avenues of approach toward your Muster Areas. In placing these units, always remember that the British are likely to move at least two factions consecutively and, particularly on the first turn, three factions consecutively.

Once any gaps are filled, units should be placed to create mixed faction forces positioned to attack Canadian territory that is weakly held. Then move like a butterfly, sting like a bee and make little raids into Canada on weakly defended victory point objectives. The idea is to simply make the British expend movements to react without jeopardizing large American forces. Keeping the British off-balance hinders their ability to invade United States soil. The early game American objective is to keep the Victory Point score close and prolong the game until you obtain the Truce cards and the powerful Special Event cards in your hand.

As Fled units reappear and enlistments accrue, amass large armies in your Muster Areas keeping them centrally located so that they can move toward the front lines at critical moments.  Then move units from the muster areas in an efficient and coordinated fashion so as to utilize the minimum number of Army moves so they are in striking distance of lost Homeland Victory Point objectives and/or weakly held Canadian ones in preparation for the big counterattack on the final turn of the game.

The American player should burn through his cards as fast as possible trying to preserve his high Army movement cards while immediately playing the less powerful Special Events. The objective is to optimize card play to achieve the perfect endgame hand that includes War Hawks, William Harrison  and possibly Kentucky Militia. In the meantime, continue making little invasions of weakly held Canadian Victory Point territories in an effort to keep the British off-balance and reactive, forcing them to burn precious movement cards.

Once you have attained the perfect end game hand, use your Truce   cards to end the game if the remaining turn order cubes favor your factions moving toward the end of the final game round. This gives the British player less chance to react to your final counterattack. Use War Hawks and Truce cards to recapture United States territory and/or invade weakly held Canadian victory point objectives always with an eye to the final Victory Point tally. The William Harrison card may allow one final additional attack to garner that crucial winning victory point.


Summary

Overcoming the British advantages in this game is not easy and requires patience, proper card management and some luck during the turn order sequence. Nevertheless, as our experience has grown with the game, the Americans can indeed win! In point of fact, we were so confident that the British advantages were overwhelming, that the guys at TheBoardGamingLife challenged the Academy Games crew, Uwe Eickert and his son Gunter, to win a game playing the Americans at the World Board Gaming Championships in Lancaster Pennsylvania.
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A very tense and prolonged game ensued that was back and forth right up to the bitter end. Nevertheless, the Academy Games team triumphed utilizing some of the strategies in this article. We were duly humbled. However, we had so much fun, we decided to make this an annual challenge at WBC.

1812: The Invasion of Canada is an extremely tense, subtly deep, and elegantly designed game. One of the qualities of an excellent game is that, after just having played, you immediately start thinking of a different strategy that would allow you to do better the next time. This is exactly what happens each time we play. We anxiously await the next game in the series on the American Revolution: 1775 Rebellion.

Restoring the Balance – 1812: The Invasion of Canada

Variants to help restore the balance of play in 1812: The Invasion of Canada

By Harvey Mossman and Fred W. Manzo


In our opinion, Academy Games’ 1812: the Invasion of Canada is a popular game because of simple and elegant play mechanics and Eurostyle treatment of the campaigns along the United States – Canadian border during the War of 1812.

We’ve played it many times and, despite its numerous likable aspects, we’ve found that it is definitely imbalanced in favor of the British. In fact, with competent British play, we have never seen an American victory. Now this may have been the designer’s intent as the British did have several advantages over a poorly organized opponent fighting an unpopular war. However, as this game may serve as an introduction for non-wargamers to our hobby, it behooves us to restore its balance as both new and old players like games that give them some chance of winning.

I want to make it clear at the outset that we are not trying to disparage an enjoyable design. We’re only suggesting fixes to play imbalance as this game is going to serve as the flagship of an ongoing series.

Let’s start the discussion with a look at the British advantages.

Numeric Factional Advantage Yields Superior Strategic Movement

The British have three factions, while the Americans have only two. As you’re able to move an Army as long as one unit of a faction is present, the British players have a tremendous flexibility and strategic mobility advantage over the Americans as they may move three times per round against the American’s two. The only requirement being that the Brits keep their armies populated with all three of their factions and this isn’t a particularly difficult requirement.

The British player is also much more likely than the American to move two or even three times in a row. Over a two round span the chances are just shy of 60% that the Brits will have three consecutive moves (this may include moves from a previous round.) This is a tremendous advantage especially if you take into account that the player who makes the last move in this game has the ability to seize victory point objectives without worrying about a response from his opponent. In fact, this last turn victory point grab is how almost all of our games terminated in a British victory.

Home Defense Rule

The Home Defense Rule aggravates the problem of consecutive moves. In a typical example, the Americans invade a British homeland territory. They are then subjected to fire before they shoot back. Therefore they are likely to take heavier initial losses. Plus they usually must withstand consecutive counterattacks by the British player who again fires first due to the Homeland Defense Rule when his next faction moves and his next faction moves.

While it is quite common for the American player to invade Canada with a large army only to suffer initial substantial losses and then be counterattacked two or three times before he even has a chance to reinforce his position or retreat, the reverse isn’t always true. Although the British also suffer homeland defensive fire when they invade the United States, they are more likely to reinforce any captured territory before their army evaporates due to their propensity to move consecutively.

Muster Area Advantage

British Muster Areas are closer to the front line than the American Muster Areas and more numerous (three printed on the map or four if you count the special Native American ability to recruit anywhere a Native American unit is present). While some say this makes British Muster Areas more vulnerable, the discussion above clearly demonstrates the difficulty of the American successfully holding Canadian territory. The net effect is that British Fleeing units reappear right in critical defensive positions, while the American Fleeing units both disappear from the fight for two or three turns and absorb precious resources getting back to their front line.

Numerical Superiority

The British simply have more units than the Americans in their force pool. The British have 25 Regulars, 35 Canadian militia and 25 Native American units to call on. The Americans, on the other hand, have only 30 Regulars and 45 militia units, for a total of 85 British units to 75 American units.

Combat Qualitative Superiority

The British Army is qualitatively better than the American army. This advantage derives from two factors: the number of Hits, Command Decisions and Flee results on British dice compared to American dice and the fact that the British Army can roll a maximum of 8 dice in combat, (2 for British Regulars and 3 each for the Canadian Militia and Native Americans) compared to the American’s 5, (2 for the American Regulars and 3 for the American Militia). The breakdown of possible results based on the individual dice each faction throws is depicted below.

Possible Combat Die Roll Outcomes Based On Faction
British Regulars: Produce hits 3 out of 6 attempts, flee 0 times out of 6 and 3 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
American Regulars: Produce hits 3 out of 6 attempts, flee 1 time out of 6 and 2 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
Conclusion: The British regulars flee less and generate more Command Decisions than their American counterpart
American Militia: Produce 2 hits out of 6 attempts, flee 2 out of 6 times and 2 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
Canadian Militia: Produce 2 hits out of 6 attempts, flee 2 out of 6 times and 2 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
Conclusion: American and Canadian Militia are equivalent in combat
Native Americans: Produce 2 hits out of 6 attempts, flee 1 out of 6 times, 3 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions, plus in most cases they generate 3 extra die rolls per battle, give the British an extra movement phase and have a “floating” muster area
Conclusion: Native Americans are in many ways better than American Regulars!

As you can see from the table above, the British Army is qualitatively superior. They flee less often and have a better chance of producing Command Decisions, which makes them tactically more flexible as they have a greater chance of staying in an advantageous position or leaving in a losing situation.


Native American’s Special Command Decision Ability

But that’s not all! The Native Americans can “retreat forward.” That is when a “Command Decision” is rolled Native American troops have the opportunity to “retreat” into unoccupied American territory, even if it’s a victory point site. Additionally, the rules state that movement of the Command Decision units is sequential. Therefore, a Native American can move into an unoccupied American territory from a Command Decision result and then be followed by a British regular or Canadian militia Command Decision in the same round of combat! This means that the Americans must have a defense in depth or else suffer from a savvy British player’s “retreating” ever deeper into their territory. Think of what this can do to a game that is about to end because the last Truce card has been played. It is particularly devastating if the British are moving consecutively, as it is likely that by “retreating forward” they’ll be grabbing victory point spaces as they go.

The Americans simply cannot be expected to be everywhere.

Geographic Advantage

Both sides must defend 7 land crossings but the Americans are vulnerable along the Hudson River due to the potential for a large British Army to debouch within two spaces of Albany (a Muster Area) by play of a Warship card. Therefore, the Americans have to defend all the usual crossings, plus the Hudson River crossings. The British have no corresponding geographical problem.

Conclusions

So what’s not to like about the British position? They have a qualitatively superior Army in combat, are more flexible strategically and tactically, are more likely to move consecutively and, more importantly, are more likely to move last. In addition, they have more troops to call on and they are likely to hit more often when in battle. Plus, they have a geographic advantage as to the placement and number of their Muster Areas in comparison to the vulnerabilities of the American Muster Area along the Hudson. In essence, the British player can fight the American player to a Draw for most of the game and then use their advantages to surge into American victory point areas just before or after the play of the last Truce card. And remember, they can do this while not overly worrying about an American response.

Surely, the Americans must have a few tricks up their sleeves? Well, their movement cards do tend to allow more of their armies to move in a round but this does not begin to compensate for the British advantages. Some also will say that their Muster Areas are arguably more difficult to capture as they are deeper in their home territory. However, given the vulnerability of Albany by a British Hudson River invasion and the fact that the Americans must spend resources to bring forces forward negates this advantage in our opinion.

Now, we’re certain that if we played an infinite number of times the Americans would eventually win. But really, is that the measure of a balanced game? Also, do you really want to introduce new wargamers to our hobby with a game so imbalanced that one side has almost no chance of winning? Surely we’d have stopped playing Monopoly very early on if we knew there was no reasonable possibility of us ever winning even one game.

Proposed Rule Changes In Our Variant

1. Turn Order Mulligan

Once each round, the American player may throw back into the bag the faction order cube just selected. He only gets to do this once each round. If he throws a cube back and it is immediately selected again, the players must make the move with this faction. (He cannot use this rule to avoid moving first in the first round of the game.) This rule partially offsets the British consecutive movement advantage as the American player will have a limited ability to break up advantageous British moves and it does provide some interesting decision-making for the American player.

2. Native American Fear Of Fortifications

In our opinion the Native Americans are some of the best troops on the board given the fact that they are better than the American Regulars qualitatively and have the special Command Decision ability. This rule helps lessen that advantage. Simply put, when Native Americans are involved in combat in an American Homeland Victory Point Territory, they must treat all command decision results as Flee results. Also, they may never use their special command decision ability to occupy an unoccupied American Homeland Victory Point Territory. When performing normal movement, they may move into these territories normally.

3. Reluctant Militia

Canadian and American militia were often reluctant to serve outside their countries. Whenever any Militia faction attempts to move across their national boundary to enter an enemy Homeland Territory, they must roll one of their faction die for each militia unit. If the result is “Flee” the militia unit must stop in the last area entered and remain behind while the rest of the Army completes its movement into enemy territory. Militia units thus left behind may move no further in this activation but may in a subsequent faction move with the same “Reluctant Militia” restrictions. This rule applies even if the militias are crossing the national boundary via water movement. Note that this rule only affects movement across national boundaries. It does not affect militias who have already successfully entered the enemy’s country. They maneuver normally once across the border.

While some may think this rule primarily affects the American player who has more militia and is more dependent on them, in actuality it affects the British to a much greater extent as they tend to have fewer regular troops and it does place some limits on their last turn ability to surge across the border in massive numbers.

4. Reshuffling of Played Cards

In our opinion the American special cards are more powerful than the British ones. Therefore re-circulating them is advantageous to the American player. Under this rule, all cards that have been played are reshuffled into each faction’s deck at the beginning of each new round prior to that faction filling his hand. Truce cards and the British warship card are never reshuffled and can only be used once. Additionally, the British factions must randomly select one Special Card used in the current round to remove permanently from the game before reshuffling the rest of their cards and filling their hand. The net effect of this is to preserve the American factions’ flexibility, while slowly draining the British players of their special abilities. In our opinion, this will force the British to end the war quickly. Remember at this time there was unrest in the Caribbean and a war in Europe to fight against Napoleon. Even after his abdication, Europe remained unsettled and the British public was extremely war weary. Therefore, there was a great deal of pressure to prosecute this war to a conclusion.

5. Hudson River Invasion Early Warnings

The Americans would surely have had an early warning of a British invasion fleet making its way slowly down the Hudson. Therefore, immediately following any move by the British player that uses a water movement card on the Hudson River, the American player may make an immediate special move by one of his armies within three spaces of the Hudson. This Army must end its movement in an American Homeland territory adjacent to the Hudson River. This move does not require the play of a card and will occur as a special reaction in the British faction’s move. If this special American army move ends in a British occupied American homeland territory, combat proceeds as normal.

6. Revised Homeland Defense Rule

The player in his home territory no longer automatically fires first. The defender fires first with all of his factions but the Homeland advantaged player designates the faction that must take the first enemy casualty. After this first exchange, all fire is simultaneous but the player who is fighting in his homeland territory decides who resolves Command Decisions first for the rest of the combat.

While this rule does not fully negate the great advantage of battling in one’s Homeland Area, it somewhat mitigates it. Now a defender can inflict some casualties before the attacker fires on him while the Homeland advantage affects how combat results are implemented.

7. Reduced Native American Combat Effectiveness

In this game, the Native Americans are the second best troops right behind the British Regulars. This combined with their special Command Decision ability and their power to recruit in areas already occupied by other Native Americans make them disproportionately effective. Therefore we took the simple option of reducing their maximum number of combat dice to 2 instead of 3. Although Native Americans were an important contingent for the British, they were far less effective in stand up battles and certainly much less effective against fortified settlements. We believe this simple rule reflects their true combat effectiveness.


Summary

Taken as a whole, these rule changes are meant to improve an already innovative design. While we could not possibly playtest every ramification of these changes, we found they do serve as welcome help to beleaguered American players and they even add some interesting decision-making to the game. Please let us know what you think.

1812: The Invasion of Canada – Board Game Review

Review of Academy Games’ Recent Game of the 1812 Invasion of Canada


By Harvey Mossman


Overview

The comedian Kathleen Madigan quipped that Canada is like America’s attic- you forget that it is up there until you go and see all the cool things it has. In the first hundred years of our nation that was most certainly not the case. The American colonies and subsequently the United States tried to conquer Canada on two occasions, once during the War for Independence and a second time during the War of 1812. Academy Games’ flagship simulation in their Birth of America series depicts this latter invasion in a rather simple yet elegant fashion.

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1812: The Invasion of Canada is a five player game where each player represents one of the warring factions. There are two players on the American side: American Regulars (represented by blue cubes), and American Militia (white cubes). The British side has three players: British Regulars (red cubes), Canadian Militia (yellow cubes) and Native Americans (green cubes). When playing with fewer than five people, one or more players will have to control multiple factions since all the factions must be played.

1812: The Invasion of Canada - Units

Setup is extremely easy since the starting positions for the 1812 scenarios are illustrated right on the map by appropriate colored cubes for each area. Any undeployed units are available for Enlistments (reinforcements) during the game. The hard mounted map, stretching from Montréal in the East to Detroit in the West, covers the areas around Lake Ontario and Lake Erie where most of the fighting took place. American Homeland Areas are shaded blue and the British are shaded red. Most areas contain starred cities or forts which are victory point objectives that are tallied at games end to determine victory. The map is aesthetically appealing with nice artistic touches suggesting old parchment. Three scenarios are offered including an introductory scenario, the 1812 full campaign scenario and a campaign scenario for 1813 for those who choose to start later in the war.

1812: The Invasion of Canada - Map

This game is card driven. Each faction has a unique deck of 12 cards from which 3 cards are drawn to form their hand for each round. The turn order is determined by randomly choosing from a set of colored cubes in a provided black bag. On the first round of play the Americans Regulars are preselected to go first and then the rest of the turn order is random. When your colored cube is drawn you execute the turn order sequence below.

1812: The Invasion of Canada - Turn order blocks

1. Place Enlistments and Fled units in Muster areas – Each side has several muster areas on the map where these enlistments can be placed. The number of units mustered is constant and depicted in the muster areas. These units come from your undeployed pieces. Next, any units that have Fled (more on this later) from previous combats can reappear in one of or both muster areas.

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2. Play a Movement card and up to two Special cards – The active player must now play one Movement card from his hand and has the option to play up to two Special cards. Movement cards tell you the number of armies that can move and the distance each Army can be moved. An Army comes from one area and moves to a single objective area. It cannot drop off or pick up units along the way. If units are going to different objectives areas they are considered separate armies. In order for a faction to move an army from an area at least one of its faction cubes must be present in the Army. Therefore, one white cube can bring along any number of white American militia cubes and blue American regular cubes. This suggests that players should keep armies of mixed factions so that they can achieve the most efficient movement.

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Some movement cards are Water movement cards. Regular forces have Warships cards that allow any number of troops in one Army to move from a coastal area to any other coastal area on the same body of water. Fishing boats are used by militia factions to move a limited number of troops from two different coastal areas to one single objective area on the same body of water. Canoes allow only Native Americans to move from multiple areas to a single area on the same body of water. These three different types of water movement represent the only depiction of naval combat in the game and give slightly different capabilities to each faction. However, there are not many of them so they must be used wisely.

Each faction also has one movement card called Truce. When all of one sides Truce cards are played, the game will end at the end of that round. Therefore, players have a limited ability to influence when the game ends.

Each Faction has four unique Special cards in its deck which modify movement or combat. When the active player plays a movement card he has the option to also play up to two special cards from his hand. These special cards give each faction a somewhat unique character. For example, a forced march card allows armies to move extra spaces and the Captain Asquith’s Sharpshooters card allows American militia to designate his opponent’s combat losses during a battle. These cards add additional flavor to the game but there are only four for each faction so they must be well-timed to maximize their effect.

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3. Resolve Battles – now battles are resolved. Battles have a unique flavor according to the faction fighting. Each faction has specific battle dice that they roll in combat which yield three possible combat results. The target symbol indicates a hit causing one of your opponents units to be removed from the map and placed back in his units force pool. Your opponents will decide among themselves which units to remove if there’s more than one faction involved in combat. A Flee result is depicted by a picture of a man running and causes the friendly player to remove a unit to his Fleeing Units Holding Area on the map. Units that have Fled are returned during the enlistments phase of your next turn. If the die face is blank, the controlling player must make a Command Decision which gives him the option of retreating one cube to an adjacent friendly area.

American and British regulars roll a number of dice equal to the number of units participating in combat with a maximum of two dice per combat. All other factions roll similarly but their maximum limit is three dice for combat. Each set of faction dice is different, cleverly representing very different fighting capabilities. Militia units have 2 Hit symbols, 2 Command Decision symbols and 2 Flee symbols. British regular units have 3 Hit symbols and 3 Command Decisions and never Flee. American regulars have 3 Hit symbols, 2 Command Decision symbols and 1 Flee symbol making them slightly inferior to British regulars. Native Americans have 2 Hit symbols, 1 Flee symbol and 3 Command Decision symbols. Additionally, Native Americans have a unique ability when executing a Command Decision in that they can retreat into an unfriendly area as long as it is not enemy occupied. This special ability can be quite devastating if not considered in the American player’s strategic plan.

The side in whose homeland area the battle takes place has the initiative and rolls first independent of who is the attacker or defender. This makes it extremely challenging to invade your opponent’s territory.

4. Draw New Cards – this action player now draws cards to fill his hand up to the maximum of three cards. If at any time he has all Special cards he must show them to all players, shuffle them back into his deck and draw three new cards. A player must have at least one moving card in his hand.


Typical Game Turn

Let’s now look at a typical turn. At the beginning of the round all the colored cubes for each faction are placed in the black bag. The red cube representing the British regular faction is randomly selected thereby initiating his turn. The British player musters three red cubes from his force pool in Montréal. He has no units that have fled from previous combats otherwise they would also have been placed in Montréal. His hand consists of a movement card that allows 2 armies to move two areas, his Truce card which allows him to move 3 armies two areas and one Special Card, Fife and Drum which allows his armies to move one additional area this turn. Since it is still early in the game the British player is reluctant to play his Truce card as this could inadvertently end the game in the current round if the Canadian militia and Native American Truce cards are played. He therefore decides to play his Movement card. Additionally, he decides to play Fife and Drum which will extend his Army’s movement to three areas this turn. If he had another Special card in his hand he could also have played it since you are allowed to play up to two Special cards each turn.

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The British player decides that he wants to recapture the British homeland objective area of Prescott which has been occupied by an American force of 4 American regulars and 5 American militia. The British attack by moving 2 of the 3 newly mustered British regulars in Montréal along with 2 Canadian militia. He is allowed to move the 2 Canadian militia because they are accompanying his British regulars. The special effect of the Fife and Drum card gives him the additional movement capability to reach Prescott from Montréal. He now moves another Army from Smith’s Creek three areas to Prescott, once again taking advantage of Fife and Drum, to reach Prescott bringing another British regular, 2 Canadian militia and 2 Native Americans.

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It is now time to resolve the battle. Despite the fact that the Americans are defending, this is a British homeland area therefore the British Army rolls first. The three British regulars are limited to their maximum two dice roll and score one Hit and one Command Decision. The Canadian militia faction has enough units to ensure they may also roll their maximum of three dice and score two Hits and one Command Decision. The Native Americans can roll a maximum of three dice but only have two units in the area so their die roll maximum is reduced to two. They roll a Hit and a Flee. Collectively, the British factions have scored four hits so the Americans must decide how to distribute their losses. The American Regular faction player and the American Militia faction player discuss their options and decide to remove 2 American militia and 2 regulars to give them their maximum die rolls for each faction. All of the British factions decide to ignore their command decisions and stay in the fight. They could have opted to retreat units to an adjacent friendly area but with this excellent first round of combat they see victory in sight and wish to stay. One of the Native Americans must Flee and the unit is placed on the Fled units holding area.

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It is now the American’s turn to fire. The American regulars have two units left allowing them to roll their maximum of two dice and score a Hit and a Command Decision. The American militia rolls three dice and scores one Hit and two Flee results. The British Army decides to remove 2 Canadian militia since Native Americans are less likely to flee and British regulars fire better than the Canadian militia. Two American militia are placed in the Flee holding area on the map and one American regular realizes the futility of remaining in combat and executes his Command Decision to retreat out of the battle into friendly Ogdensburg.

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It is now the second round of combat and the British side rolls again with the remaining three British regulars, 2 Canadian militia and 1 Native American. The die rolls are as follows. British regulars score a Hit and a Command Decision. They choose to ignore the command decision and stay in the fight. The Canadian militias roll a Hit and a Flee which removes one of their units to the Flee holding area. The Native American rolls a Command Decision which they also choose to ignore. The Americans remove the last American militia and their remaining American Regular. The battle is over.

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As you can see there is a lot of decision-making trying to optimize the use of movement cards, special cards and deciding the best timing to play your Truce cards. A lot of thought must be given to the distribution of various factions among your many armies so that you can move each Army during each faction’s turn. How best to take losses in combat and whether to execute Command Decisions also is thought-provoking. The uniqueness of the separate factions’ cards and combat dice subtly characterizes the differences between each faction’s forces. All of these features certainly make the game fun to play. As the game can be played in about an hour and can be taught in 10 minutes, this may serve as an excellent game to introduce the uninitiated to our hobby.


Summary

Wargaming grognards will find this game to be overly simplistic. This is more of a Eurostyle game than a hard-core wargame. Much of the historical aspects of the campaigns have been abstracted. The naval battles for control of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are boiled down to use of the Water Movement cards. There is no naval arms race on the Great Lakes. Also, there are no supply limitations other than the limitation of retreating via a command decision into only friendly areas (however the Native Americans are not restricted in this manner).

I’ve played this game many times and while there is much to recommend it, I do so with some caveats. Invading enemy territories is exceptionally challenging because of the homeland territory first fire advantage. This makes it extremely difficult to occupy a defended enemy area as you will be subject to significant losses going in. Because of the random turn order, you may not be able to reinforce and the enemy counterattack is devastating since they once again fire first. We often found that invading armies were usually repulsed handily because of this rule. The British side also has several advantages that are difficult to overcome. The British regulars and Native Americans have better combat dice than the American regular and American militia respectively. Furthermore, if the British player has all three factions present in his Army he has the potential to fire eight combat dice against a maximum of five combat dice for the Americans. This can be quite devastating. It is not particularly difficult to maintain armies of mixed factions. Finally, the British have the capability of moving three times during the turn if they keep a mix of factions in each Army. On the other hand, the Americans can only move twice. This gives the British a tremendous mobility advantage and greatly handicaps the American player. Although there is a slight advantage in movement afforded by the American Movement cards, we have found this does not adequately compensate the Americans.

The reappearance of Fled units is also problematic since they reappear in your muster areas. They come back automatically and en masse therefore they tend to show up in theaters where they’re most needed. It is as if they have magically teleported from a combat on one side of the map all across the northern frontier to the other side. The muster areas for the Americans are farther from the Canadian border which makes it a more difficult for these units to be moved forward into combat. The Canadian muster areas are much closer to where they will be needed so when Fled units return, they are almost immediately available for the next friendly faction’s combat.

The homeland first fire rule, greater British mobility and placement of British muster areas near the front lines often results in the game devolving into a stalemate along the Canadian border. The Americans are unable to hold any British territories and must wait for an opportune sequence of turns to launch any invasions. When one side has played all of their Truce cards, there is the “End of Time” philosophy where players make a last-ditch grab of an enemy objective to win the game knowing that there can be no response from the other players. Here again, the British have the advantage since they will more frequently move last in a given round because they have three factions compared to the American. Gameplay tends to be characterized by both players temporarily holding enemy territories only to be repulsed in the next move. This results in a victory point stalemate until four of the five Truce cards have been played. At that moment, the faction moving last simply pays his Truce card and seizes one enemy territory knowing that there can be no further response. As one of our players commented, “It is like watching basketball where only the last minute of the game truly counts”.

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In summary, this is a well-conceived and beautifully executed introductory game that is more Euro game than hard-core wargame. Nevertheless it does provide an hour or more of entertainment and makes a wonderful tool to introduce non-wargamers to our hobby. It is certainly not a strict historical simulation of the Northern campaigns during the war of 1812. The cards and variability of the combat die rolls make replayability excellent if one can find a way to overcome the inherent end of the game victory point grab to which many games succumb. In short, you will either love this game as a simple quick entertainment or hate this game because it lacks much historical insight. However, I think it has achieved the designer’s objectives to devise a quick playing game on the 1812 invasion of Canada and therefore deserves some accolades. I can only cautiously recommend this game because of the weaknesses I have noted above. If your inclination is more towards Eurostyle games then I think this game is for you.


Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Harvey.


Strike of the Eagle: Soviet Initial Strategies

By Harvey Mossman

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Soviet Initial Strategies

Academy Games’ Strike of the Eagle (Designers: Robert Zak, Brian Bennett and Uwe Eickert) is so challenging and elegantly designed that it has quickly joined The Boardgaming Life’s top 10 desert island games. In fact, it is in the top five of my exclusive list. Nuanced but straightforward rules provide exceptional challenges for both players and the contest is never a foregone conclusion. This article will propose one opening Soviet strategy. I will not claim that this is the best or most efficient strategy; however it is designed to wrest control of the initiative from the Polish player, reverse the initial Soviet deficit in victory points and unhinge the Polish Northern front.

The Soviet commanders of the Northern and Southern Front face completely opposite situations. In the North, the Soviets must take the offensive and break the fortified the Berezina River line in an effort to push through towards Warsaw and end the war. In the South the Soviets are desperately trying to hold before a Polish onslaught until either reinforcements arrive or success on the northern front unhinges the Polish lines forcing them to abort their offensive. Let’s first look at the balance of forces available to each player.


Soviet Northern Front Strategy

On the Northern Front the Soviets have 12 infantry divisions totaling 34 infantry strength points along with one cavalry division worth 3 strength points for a total of 37 strength points. Additionally, by the end of the first round, six more infantry divisions and one cavalry brigade enter as reinforcements bringing 15 more strength points into play for a total of 52 Soviet strength points. The Polish player has 8 infantry divisions on the frontline totaling 23 strength points and one Calvary brigade worth 2 strength points. In rear areas he has another five infantry divisions for a total of 10 strength points and a cavalry brigade at 2 strength points. However, these units are not immediately available at the front and will take time to move into positions where their presence can be felt. Therefore, the Soviets have a numerical advantage in in both number of units and total combat value yet they can still be stymied by a tenacious Polish defense based on numerous fortified cities. How can the Soviet player utilize this preponderance of strength to crack the Polish line without suffering enormous casualties?

It is said that armchair generals discuss numbers, strategy and tactics while real generals talk logistics. Indeed, maneuvering against the enemy’s lines of supply in Strike of the Eagle is imperative in devising a successful strategy that will avoid excessive losses. Remember that infantry must trace three spaces and cavalry units five spaces to a Key City which in turn must trace a clear line to Warsaw for the Poles or the Soviet Eastern links for the Russians. Units out of supply at the end of an operation phase each suffer harsh penalties, losing 1 strength point and restricting their choice of orders to Move OutDefend, or Withdraw. Moreover, units that are eliminated due to lack of supply yield 1 victory point to your opponent and can never be rebuilt for the rest of the game. Therefore, threatening your opponent’s supply line forces him to react to your moves.

On the Northern Front, the Polish defense is based on a line of fortified cities behind the Berezina River thereby making frontal assaults costly. The fortifications reduce the defenders losses by one and negate friendly attempts to outflank, The Soviets will be hard-pressed to take this position by frontal assault as they will often only obtain drawn combat results requiring the attacker to retreat. Therefore, it is best to look for areas where this line can be outflanked. The first axis of advance should aim at capturing the city of Vorenech. Here you can bring in units from Polotsk and the two strong infantry divisions from Beshenkovichi to attack the 2SP Byelorussian infantry division. It is often a good idea to force march the cavalry division from Vitebsk into this target city in the hopes of pinning the Polish unit so that it can be destroyed. Remember, the Polish player starts with the initiative and could very well retreat this unit by force march before you get a chance to attack. Therefore, if the Soviet player is allowed to execute his forced marches first, pin the Byelorussian unit with your cavalry. The Byelorussian unit is extremely exposed and no Polish units can reinforce it on the first operations phase. The Soviets will be attacking with a total strength of 11. With a 3 combat modifier card (either picked from the deck or a 2 combat modifier card played from your hand) your attack strength will be 13 causing 4 Polish losses. Of course Polish battle card play may modify Polish or Soviet losses and placement of a Defend order could further reduce Polish losses but the likely outcome is the elimination of the Byelorussian infantry division for one Soviet step loss. This victory achieves the first breakthrough of the Polish defensive line. On the next operation phase the Russians will have 3 infantry divisions and a strong cavalry division in Vorenech ready to drive straight ahead towards Hylbokaye, an important Key City for each side. If the Polish player does not pull out the infantry divisions in Druya and Disna, the capture of Hylbokaye will cut their supply line. (although not stated in the rules, we assume that Polish units cannot trace through neutral Lithuania). To adequately defend Hylbokaye against this Soviet juggernaut, rear area Polish units will have to be moved forward or the 4 strength infantry division in Berezino will have to react leaving a hole in the Polish line. No matter how the Polish player reacts this completely unhinges the left flank of his fortified line. Since Soviet reinforcements come in at Yartsevo, they can easily be railed forward to further pressure the extreme northern part of the Polish line.

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Red arrows indicate 1st operation phase moves, blue arrows 2nd operation phase moves and green arrows 3rd operations phase moves in the first round. Ghosted units represent units that moved into the city on the first operations phase. Ghosted orders represent orders to be executed in the second operation phase.

While the Soviet player unhinges the northern flank the Soviets can apply devastating pressure at the opposite end of the Polish Northern Front by driving on the key city of Mazyr. As we shall soon see, when we turn to Southern Front strategies, capture of Mazyr helps the Southern Front Soviet defend against any advances of Polish units into the territory formed by the confluence of the Prypiat River and the Dnieper River.

In order for this attack to materialize the first step must be to capture Kalenkovichi. The weakness of Soviet forces in the area makes this a difficult problem. In the first operation phase the two 4SP divisions in Tolochin must be moved by rail down to Rechitsa. A Reorganize order can be used on the infantry division that starts in Rechitsa if the Soviets have enough orders to spare. These units are now poised to strike in strength on the second operation phase with a Move To order on Kalenkovichi resulting in a flank attack which negates the fortification. The combat would include the three divisions from Rechitsa totaling at minimum 10 SP’s and two divisions from Zlobin for another 4 SP’s. Since this attack will not materialize until the second operations phase, it is conceivable that the Belarusian infantry division at Brest could have railed up to Kalenkovichi to aid the defense. If the Polish Calvary brigade in Charyshi tries to move and timely reinforce, the Poles will not have enough units to cover their southern flank and a hole will be created where the Soviets can penetrate into the Polish rear areas. Assuming no cavalry reinforcements but the possibility of the Belarusian unit being present, the combat would entail 14 infantry SP’s versus 4 Polish infantry SP’s possibly underneath a Defend order. The Defend order would negate 1 strength point loss caused by your 14 strength points but here is where it would be worthwhile to use a combat modifier card value of three from your hand which would then cause 4 Polish losses (5 for your combat strength and combat modifier -1 for the defend order) while the Polish are likely to inflict only one or two strength point losses. This results in the elimination of at least one and possibly both Polish units leaving Mazyr weekly defended while concentrated Soviet units poise to attack on subsequent operations phase.

With a strong push and average Battle Card and Combat Modifier card play, Mazyr should fall in the third operation phase. In addition, any Polish units trying to defend this area should have suffered substantial losses opening up the right flank of the Polish Northern Front. The capture of Mazyr also has several other important consequences. First it provides a victory point and a forward Key City from which the Soviets can draw supplies as they move along the northern Prypiat River. Ultimately their objective will be the key city of Luminets or an encirclement of the center part of the Polish line. Secondly, any Polish units operating on the right flank of the Soviet’s Southern Front will have to draw their supply from Rivne until Berdychiv is captured. This forces the Polish player to advance frontally against the Soviet forces and limits the opportunity to outflank the Soviet Southern Front line. Finally, if the Polish southern front is advancing, Mazyr provides a River crossing where Northern Front Soviet units can threaten the flank and rear areas of the Southern Front Polish line.

In summary, this northern Soviet front strategy attempts to outflank the strong central fortified Polish River line by unhinging the Polish extreme left and right flanks. It provides for the potential capture of two important Keys Cities garnering 2 Victory Points and the possibility of other Victory Points for a Great Victory in the battles generated. Since the Polish player starts with two victory points this quickly changes the momentum of the game. Additionally, victories in these opening battles should shift the initiative on the Northern Front to the Soviet player.


Soviet Southern Front Strategy

The strategic situation on the Soviet Southern Front is quite dire indeed. The Soviets have 10 infantry divisions and one infantry brigade for a total of 23 strength points as well as one cavalry division with 2 strength points. There are Garrison markers in each of the key cities on the southern front. The Polish player has 11 infantry divisions totaling 31 strength points, 3 cavalry divisions and the leader totaling 8 cavalry strength points. This means that the Polish player has a 39 to 25 strength point advantage and is more maneuverable due to the three Calvary divisions. Fortunately, the Soviet player only has two important cities to defend. Kiev must not fall or you will yield six victory points (two plus another four bonus victory points). Additionally, if Polish units crossed the Dnieper River, they may be able to advance on Gomel threatening the Soviet Northern Front supply lines. Berdychiv must be held if possible to prevent its use by Polish units to draw supply as they advance on Kiev. However, it sits in an exposed position with no direct retreat path towards Kiev thereby requiring that the cities of Koziatyn and Zytomir be kept open so that defenders in Berdychiv can eventually retreat. Otherwise, Berdychiv becomes a giant trap for Soviet units and a treasure trove for Polish victory points when Soviet units are eliminated for lack of retreat path. Additionally, as a road hub without fortifications, Berdychiv will likely be subjected to multiple flank attacks. Finally, the Poles have strong forces within easy striking range of Berdychiv. The overriding dilemma for the Soviets is how long they defend Berdychiv before their entire army is jeopardized. If the Soviet Army is destroyed in front of Berdychiv, a successful defense of Kiev is unlikely.

Red arrows indicate first operation phase moves, blue arrows second operation phase moves in the first round. Ghosted orders represent orders to be executed on the second operation phase.
Red arrows indicate first operation phase moves, blue arrows second operation phase moves in the first round. Ghosted orders represent orders to be executed on the second operation phase.

Red arrows indicate first operation phase moves, blue arrows second operation phase moves in the first round. Ghosted orders represent orders to be executed on the second operation phase.

There are so many possible strategies available to the Polish player when his offensive is launched, I can only give general guidelines as to an appropriate Soviet defense. First and foremost, the Soviet player must pick either Zytomyr or Koziatyn to defend resolutely. One of the cities will provide the retreat path when it is time to abandon Berdychiv. Establishing forces in Zytomyr, Berdychiv and Koziatyn allow some interesting tactical maneuvers to allay the effects of attrition on your forces and negate the multiple outflanking attacks on each of these cities. The Soviet player should initially place Withdraw orders on his frontline units as shown in the illustration above. The infantry unit in Korotsen and the cavalry unit in Romaniv will attempt a Forced March to Zytomir if not pinned. All other units will withdraw to Berdychiv except the infantry division in Zmerynka which will force March through Vinnytsia in an attempt to get to Koziatyn. Likewise the infantry division in Haisyn should end a forced march in Koziatyn. Once this line is achieved, a Defend order should be placed on Berdychiv and Zytomir with a Forced March To order. This Force March order allows units to exchange places between these two cities acting as support units thereby reinforcing the most threatened city and negating potential flank attack penalties. If any other orders are available consideration should be given to Force March the infantry brigade from Chernobyl to Fastiv to Koziatyn.

By the third operations phase, the Poles will be poised to attack in strength all along the Zytomir-Berdychiv-Koziatyn line. This is the moment of truth for the Soviet player. He must decide whether he can win the battle of Berdychiv as well as the battle for either Zytomir or Koziatyn. If he decides to stay and fight, Defend orders are appropriate and once again a judiciously placed Force March To order to shuffle units between these three cities to act as supporting units may be appropriate. On the third operation phase, much-needed reinforcements arrive in Elizavetgrad and, if possible they should execute a Rail Movement to either Zytomir or Koziatyn while Stalin reorganizes one of the units. If you have successfully held Berdychiv until the beginning of the 4th operations phase without losing too many units, you have achieved your objective. Hopefully by this time your comrade on the Northern Front has cracked the Polish defensive line and captured Mazyr. You now have the option of falling back on Kiev while awaiting the powerful 1st Cavalry Army to arrive. If the southern front Poles advance, they will be threatened by Soviet Northern Front units attacking south from Mazyr.

If possible, use a card for the 5th operations phase to accumulate reinforcement cubes. By Round 2, you should start to feel confident about holding Kiev and possibly launching a counterattack as reinforcements accumulate on your front. The Southern Front Polish player will eventually be forced to retreat as their Northern Front collapses. In Round 2 the Soviet player should cautiously pursue and use cards to accumulate reinforcement cubes so your Army is up to strength when the Polish retreat ends at the Curzon Line.


Summary

Strike of the Eagle is a game of maneuver and bluff augmented by sound strategy. It is a game where both players will have the opportunity to aggressively attack and tenaciously defend. While the strategies I have put forth can be adversely affected by card play and the fog of war, they at least provide a sound basis on which to develop your campaign. I am sure other and perhaps superior opening strategies will be discovered. The Boardgaming Life would like to hear about them. Please feel free to write us and we would be happy to publish the strategies that you have tried.


Feedback

Harvey,This is excelent article! I love to read such analysis.

However, I found one risky move in your strategy on Southern Front ☺

Moving 2SP division from Haisyn opens a gap which may be exploited in future phases by the opponent to flank attacks Koziatyn group, enter the rears and
take Uman. I think it would be better to leave it there (as reserve) and even Reinforce it (if able) with Reorganize order. That’s my subjective opinion.

Best regards,
Robert Zak, Designer

Robert,I am glad you enjoyed the article.

With regards to the risky move, It is really not that risky. First, the 2 SP Infantry in Kamianets will take 2 Forced marches to get to Uman or to
flank the Koziatyn group which means they don’t get there until Round 3. That is assuming the Poles have enough orders to move it each turn and if they
are spending orders on that then they are not using an order in the more critical central sector. If that 2 SP Division dashes for Uman it will get there
as a Force March on Round two with very little chance of taking the city due to being halved from the Force march. If other Polish units are diverted there
they will arrive on Round 3. By that time the Polish Northern Front should have been unhinged by Soviet attack as outlined by the article. Also, Soviet
reinforcements arrive in Elizabethgrad adjacent to Uman any nowcan quickly counterattack or at least threaten to.

Good Strike of the Eagle play is based on knowing the logistics and bluffing your opponent into making poor decisions. If the Poles capture Uman and use that to
draw supply for their attack towards Kiev, they are only really supplied to attack Kiev from the South and won’t reach Kiev until Round 5 at the earliest. By this
time the Polish Northern Front should be in full retreat and significant Soviet reinforcements should be arriving.

In summary, Uman is not critical to hold and if this strategy baits the Poles to go South then they are diverting forces from their main drive towards Kiev. Once
the Soviet Cavalry Corps arrives and the Polish Northern Front collapses, it is very hard for the Polish Southern Front Commander to continue his drive on Kiev.

In effect this strategy baits the Poles to go around south thereby drawing off some pressure in the center and right flank of the Soviet line. The center of Soviet
line is eventually going to retreat to Kiev anyhow but the longer you delay the Poles, the more likely you can hold Kiev.

Great to hear from you, and thanks for designing such an excellent game!
-Harvey Mossman

Strike of the Eagle Board Game Review

By Harvey Mossman

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A Gourmet Achievement for the Discriminating Palate

As a young child, I watched my grandmother cook for all the holiday family get-togethers. She told me that the secret of a good chef was to use the best ingredients and keep each in balance with the other. Academy Games must have had this in mind when they took a prior recipe, the Eagle and the Star designed by Robert Zak, added a touch of this and pinch of that and, as Chef Emril would say, “Bam!” produced a gourmet meal.

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Strike of the Eagle is a game to be savored. From the moment you open the sturdy box revealing the beautifully illustrated mounted map, you realize this game was produced with epicurean care. The map shows stylized cities each connected by paths or railroads. There is a player’s aid sheet, two decks of well-illustrated cards (one each for the Polish and Soviet players) , a card with tracks for Victory Points and Initiative and finally, clearly illustrated sticker labels for the blocks which take the place of the usual cardboard counters. Yes, some assembly is required. The rules are printed on magazine quality glossy paper and are extremely clear and profusely illustrated. They can be digested in less than 30 minutes. Professional chefs know that an exquisite meal can be ruined if the presentation is poor. Academy Games gets extremely high marks in this regard.


The Recipe

As for gameplay, the designers have taken tried-and-true ingredients and blended them to create a tension packed, and decision filled, challenging delicacy. Let’s examine their recipe a little closer.

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Fog of war is a huge element of this design. Units are represented by blocks that stand upright facing the player with unit type and strength hidden from your opponent. Additionally, step loss reduction is secretly administered by turning each block 90° for each loss suffered. Therefore, you are never quite sure of the enemy forces combat potential. Furthermore, units are given secret orders by placing order markers face down on the playing board. Orders include Move To, Move Out, Force March To, Force March Out, Withdraw, Defend, Reorganize, Recon and Rail Move. The player with the initiative decides who places the first order which can be a big advantage as it may give imprecise hints as to your opponent’s operational plans for the turn. However, with facedown orders there is plenty of room for bluff and misdirection. This is one of my favorite aspects of the game.

In brief, Forced March Out and Move Out orders are placed on a space with friendly units and activate all units in the space to march out in any direction. Infantry move 1 space, cavalry moves 2 spaces and a Forced March Order gives each unit type an additional space to move. Move To and Forced Marches To orders are placed on any space with the requirement that units following these orders end their movement in the target space. Withdrawal orders lets you retreat if your units are attacked at the cost of one strength point lost. Defend orders allow friendly units to ignore the first loss in combat and negates one enemy flanking attack. Units gain one strength point under a Reorganize order but they may not move and fight at half combat strength rounded down if attacked. The Rail Transport order allows units to move along a friendly rail line up to eight spaces. Finally, the Recon order is a mandatory order that must be placed in each operations phase and allows you to look at enemy unit strengths. However, since it can be placed within three hexes of a friendly unit, it is sometimes best utilized as a crafty misdirection by placing it on a friendly or unoccupied space to make your opponents think that some other order will be executed there.

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While Fog of War is the sauté to whet the appetite of gamers, the meat of the game is the cards. I cannot say that Strike of the Eagle is card driven a la We the People because players can take actions without the use of cards, but it is intensively card dependent. You simply will not accomplish anything of great value without utilizing cards.

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A player can have seven cards in his hand. Each card can be utilized in one of four different ways. In the upper left-hand corner is the Order Modifier which gives the player additional orders beyond the 2 he gets at the start of each operation phase. This can be critical because one of his 2 orders will be the mandatory Recon order, leaving him only one order to move or defend. A player who does not utilize the Order Modifier will most likely cede the operational initiative to his opponent for that phase.

In the upper right-hand corner of the card there is a red Combat Modifier. This value is added to the player’s combat strength to determine the losses that he inflicts on his opponent. In the middle of each card is text which represents historical events, battle effects or battlefield events. Finally, at the bottom of each card are a number of squares representing Reinforcement Cubes which can be accumulated over the course of the turn to be cashed in in the reinforcement phase to form new units or augment depleted units.

Proper use of the cards is one of the most tense and challenging aspects of the game. Cards with higher Order Modifiers tend to have high Combat Modifiers, highly effective events and a multitude of reinforcement cubes. Deciding the priorities for using the card is of utmost importance to effective gameplay. Is play of the event more important than operational maneuverability? Have you taken such significant losses that getting reinforcement cubes are paramount? Do you save this card for an important battle to take advantage of its high Combat Modifier? There are no easy answers to these questions which makes this game so exciting.


The Ingredients

As I now have your digestive juices flowing let’s run through a typical turn so that you can see how all these wonderful ingredients has been combined into a gourmet meal. The turn is divided into five operational phases. Each phase starts with players replenishing their hand by drawing new cards from their respective decks. At the beginning of the first Operation Phase each player draws six new cards. Thereafter he gets two cards on phases two through four. A player can have a maximum of seven cards and must discard down to that limit by the end of this phase.

Following the Replenish Cards Phase is the Initiative Phase. The game map is divided horizontally into northern and southern fronts for each player’s Army. The initiative is determined for each front. The player with the highest initiative on his front decides who places the first order during each operation phase and who executes each order type first. This is critically important.

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Once the first player is decided, it alternates back and forth until all orders are placed. Allowing your opponent to place orders first may give you a hint as to where he might be making an offensive thrust. Even more critical is the ability to decide whether you or your opponent executes each type of order first. Sometimes you want to move before your opponent to get to a critical city space before he does. Other times you would prefer that he tips his hand so that you may best react to it. This adds another aspect requiring tough decision making and problem solving. Initiative is increased by certain event cards and by winning battles. However, the higher your initiative the more difficult it becomes to raise the initiative further. You must inflict more strength point losses than your current initiative level to increase your initiative. This wonderfully simulates how the friction of war impedes the buildup of your momentum. Any lost battle will reduce the initiative but the initiative level cannot increase or decrease by more than one point for each battle.

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The players now have the option to play a card face down to garner additional orders, trigger a historical event or accumulate reinforcement cubes. It is not mandatory to play a card at this point. After historical events have been resolved, the number of orders increased and reinforcement cubes distributed, players then place orders. The map is divided into a Northern and Southern front for each player so that the game can accommodate up to four players. The player with the initiative on each front decides who will place their orders first. In certain circumstances leaders can then contribute additional orders if activated. Next orders are executed in a strict sequence. Force March orders are executed first. As orders are revealed they are executed with one player executing all of his forced March orders followed by the other. Next, all recon orders are executed followed by movement orders then withdrawal orders.

If opposing units now occupy the same space, combat ensues unless the defending units are under a Withdrawal order. If attacking units entered the space from more than one direction, they gain a Flanking Bonus which reduces the defenders combat value by two strength points for each additional path of entry above the first. The Flanking Bonus can be mitigated by having a Defend order which allows the defender to ignore the first strength point loss in battle and negate one enemy Flanking Bonus. Certain cities on the map have fortifications. If all attacking units are coming through the fortifications symbols, these act like an additional Defend order negating one flanking bonus and allowing the defender to ignore one strength point of loss. Finally, if the defender has Supporting Units moving into the battle space then, for each path that these supporting units enter, one Flank Bonus is negated.

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Combat is now resolved. Each player may play a Battle Card which often adds or subtracts strength points or losses to the attacker or defender. Next, the players must play a combat modifier card. If played from his hand the Combat Modifier Value is augmented by one. Otherwise, the player uses the face value of the Combat Modifier of a card drawn from his deck. Note that the battle card and the Combat Modifier card are played before combat unit strengths are revealed. Therefore players don’t know how strong his opponent’s forces are before making decision on how to play his cards. Now unit strengths are revealed and totaled taking into account modifiers for fortifications, Defend orders, Flanking Bonuses, Battle Card effects and Combat Modifiers.

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There are no dice utilized in combat resolution. Each player’s total combat strength determines how many losses he inflicts on the opponent. A value of 4-6 inflicts one loss, 7-9 inflicts 2 losses, 10-12 inflicts 3 losses, 13-17 inflicts 4 losses, 18 or more inflicts 5 losses. Losses may be reduced by previous played Battle Card or the play of Battle Event cards which occurs immediately after losses are determined. The player who suffers the most actual losses after modification from Battle Cards and Battle Events must retreat. Ties cause the attacker to retreat. Successful attackers must move at least one unit into the captured space. Others can return to the spaces from which they came. Losers must retreat towards a friendly Key city.

After combat, Reorganization orders are executed followed by Rail Movement orders. Then supply is judged. Infantry units must be within three spaces of a friendly Key city that can trace supply back to a supply source which is Warsaw for the Polish and the Soviet Eastern links for the Russians. Cavalry can trace five spaces. Units out of supply are marked by an out of supply marker and suffer one strength point of attrition.

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There are five operations phases to each turn and when all are complete, the reinforcement phase begins. In this phase players get additional reinforcement cubes from cities they control and add that to any reinforcement cubes they collected by play of cards during the operation phase. Friendly units can now absorb or detach strength points to consolidate units, place Garrison markers on Key cities they occupy, expend reinforcement cubes to augment one unit one strength point in spaces that are adjacent to the enemy (frontline units), freely augment friendly units not adjacent to the enemy and finally, spend 2 reinforcement cubes to build a new one strength unit.

The victory conditions are then checked and a new turn begins. Victory points are gained by capturing Key cities or play of certain Historical Events. Additionally, eliminating out of supply units or destroying units who lack a legal retreat gives one victory point per unit destroyed. A victory point is gained by winning Great Victories if you inflict at least 4 real losses to your opponent in a battle. There is a victory point track which shows the victory point advantage one player has over the other. If a player’s advantage reaches 15 points he wins the game.


The Meal

So how does the game play? We assembled 4 players and jumped right into the full campaign scenario. On the Northern front the Poles must play cautiously and pick spots carefully to attack. The Soviet forces are at least their equal and Soviet reinforcements rapidly accumulate on the Northern front. The situation is reversed in the South. The Southern front Poles are stronger and can launch an offensive that pushes the Soviets back towards the key city of Kiev. The Southern front Soviet commander must use Withdrawal and Defend orders carefully so that he can keep his line intact while using his cards to accumulate reinforcement cubes. He does get a significant reinforcement in the Soviet Cavalry Corps which consists of 4 full strength cavalry divisions and 1 cavalry brigade. However, the entry of these units is somewhat random based upon pulling the correct Combat Modifier value from the deck until they automatically come in on the second operation phase of Turn 2.

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It is important that players pick specific axis of attack since broad front offensives often result in significant losses and little movement towards one’s objectives. The key decisions are whether to play your cards for additional orders, historical events or reinforcements. Typically, players will wait until the fourth and fifth operation phase to play for reinforcement cubes since by this time units are spent and hand sizes depleted. This wonderfully simulates the exhaustion of offensive momentum. A player also has to be careful lest his opponent achieve a large advantage in numbers of orders during a given operation phase. Operational pacing and balance is paramount to achieving your objectives or successfully defending. Each operation phase we found that we were constantly challenged how best to utilize a given card. Hand management is critical because a player going into battle without Battle Cards is severely handicapped.

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By the mid-game, Soviet reinforcements tend to swing the momentum and the spent Polish player must make a decision when to cut and run back to the Curzon defensive line. While the Soviets give chase, the Polish player must accumulate reinforcements and prepare to counterattack. At this point in the game, my Polish compatriot and I had bitten our fingernails down to the cuticle. As the Soviet logistical tail lengthens, the Polish player has a chance to counterattack. Once again multiple frontal attacks will achieve little. We used brilliant misdirection by order placement to punch a hole in the Soviet lines causing them to reel back. Although the game ended with the Soviet victory it was a “near run thing”.

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The game uses simple straightforward concepts that we have all encountered in other games. Initially, there was some confusion about the interpretation of MOVE TO and FORCE MARCH TO orders. The rules seem to indicate a strict interpretation whereby units executing these orders must end up in the targeted city. However one of the rules illustrations suggested that these orders could be used simply to have units move towards the objective even if they could never actually reach it. This created a lot of confusion as to what defined moving towards the objective. The designers rapidly responded that the strict interpretation was indeed what was intended. In summary, MOVE TO and FORCE MARCH TO orders must be executable at the time of placement. During Orders Execution they are voided if no unit could possibly reach the targeted space because of intervening enemy units. Any unit executing a MOVE TO or FORCE MARCH TO order must end in the targeted space.


Conclusion

We have played this game many times now with various players and different strategies. Each time the game played differently yet remained exciting and challenging for all. My one concern is that Historical Events tend to be underpowered and situational making it less likely that players will forego the additional orders or reinforcement cubes on the card to play the Historical Event. This is only a very minor caveat to an otherwise exceptional game.

It is rare that a game so delights the senses and stimulates the appetite for more. I’ve played this game several times now and remain un-satiated. While the full campaign game can take 8 to 12 hours to complete, there are smaller scenarios to whet your appetite. However, Academy Games has served up a truly gourmet meal; one that should be leisurely enjoyed and truly savored. Bon appétit!

A Real-World Approach to Understanding the Attack Sequence

Napoleon’s Triumph: The Attack Sequence

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Overview

Napoleon’s Triumph, by Simmons Games, is one of the most innovative war games in several years. Unfortunately, this unusual system has, to some, been an obstacle to learning the game and fully enjoying its novelty. I hope to smooth the learning curve for new players of this marvelous game by explaining the attack sequence in the way that real world commanders would see it. Hopefully, from this point of view, the elegance and subtlety of the combat resolution will no longer confound the players so they may fully appreciate the sophistication of the design.

This article does require some familiarity with the game but I will quickly summarize the major features so that all can follow along.

The units are represented by rectangular blocks printed with a number of infantry, cavalry or artillery symbols that designate its unit type and strength. Fog of war is paramount since the unit strengths face away from your opponent. Typically units are aggregated into Corps commanded by various historical leaders however Independent Units are not attached to a Corps requiring them to be individually commanded. Each side has a certain number of Corps Orders and Independent Orders that can be issued to units.

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The battlefield of Austerlitz is divided into geographic areas named Locales. The borders between Locales are called Approaches. Within a given Locale, units can be in one of two Positions, either occupying the central portion of the locale termed the Reserve or deployed along the border in the Approach. Units in the Reserve position may move to the Reserve position of any adjacent locale or move into the approach of the locale it currently occupies. Units already in the Approach may move into the Reserve of its locale or cross the Approach into the Reserve area of the Locale directly adjacent. When units attempt to move into a Locale occupied by enemy units, there is combat and the attack sequence is resolved. It is the combat sequence that seems to be the source of the greatest confusion when attempting to learn the game.


The Attack Sequence

I will now attempt to give you a general sense of how a typical combat flows without getting into the intricacies of each step since they are clearly explained in the rules. In this manner I hope to impart the overall concept of what each combat step represents on the actual battlefield thereby illuminating the elegant logic of the Attack Sequence. Let’s look at each step a little more closely from the point of view of the commanders on the field and how the tactical decisions they make are reflected through the attack sequence.


1. Attack Threat

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You are now Marshal Lannes, Napoleon’s trusted Corps commander in the French Army with instructions to hold the Locale at the town of Rochlenka. There are five possible Approaches bordering this Locale. As the commander charged with its defense, you must analyze the terrain and the most likely avenue through which the enemy will attack. The Allied commander, General Constantine, has marched his Corps into an adjacent Locale. You see enemy troops moving down the road East of your position. You do not know their intentions but, as any good Corps commander, you must prepare for the worst. There is a threat to the East, a threat of attack.

The Attack Threat is where the attacker announces his intent to attack a given Locale through a given Approach. He must have units that could potentially move through the Approach designated in the Attack Threat. An important concept here is that he does not yet designate which units will make the attack. He simply points to a given approach and states that an Attack Threat will be coming through this Approach. He’s forcing the defender to make a decision about defending the Locale or retreating.


2. Retreat Option

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Lannes is now forced to make a difficult decision. He has five divisions under his command and has five possible approaches he may need to defend. If he commits all of his divisions to the defense of this one threatened approach, he will leave other approaches open for enemy troops to outflank his troops. As Napoleon ordered him to defend this Locale at all costs, he decides not to retreat. He decides to commit 2 infantry divisions and one heavy cavalry division to defend against this particular attack threat.

The defender now must decide whether he’s going to retreat out of the Locale or defend. If he decides to defend, he must name which units in the Locale he plans to allocate to the defense of the designated Approach.


3. Feint Option

Constantine views enemy troops along his planned Line of March. His orders are to attack and try to break the French center. Therefore he decides to push his attack up the main road directly into the Locale that Lannes is defending. There will be no feinting here! He has not yet decided who will attack or how many troops he will commit, but he knows that he must push the French before him. As his troops continue to march, he will wait to see how the enemy deploys before deciding on his plan of attack.

The attacker may now declare his Attack Threat as a Feint which means he is not really going to attack through that approach and the attack sequence will end here. Feints are useful to draw away defending enemy troops so that fewer are available to defend other approaches in an enemy occupied locale. As this Attack Threat is not a Feint, the Attack Sequence proceeds.


4. Defense Declaration

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Lannes looks to the East and sees enemy troops moving towards his men along the main road. He now must prepare his defense plan. He decides to have the two infantry divisions up front as the leading units. These units will take the brunt of the attack and will try to hold at all costs. He will hold his cavalry just behind the lead infantry in the event his infantry divisions are not strong enough to repel the initial assault. If his infantry falters, he can order the heavy cavalry to counterattack.

The defending player now names his leading units. These must be named from the units he designated to defend the Approach. You can think of the leading units as the units in front of the line who are going to take the brunt of the initial attack. If the approach is wide he can designate up to two units to be the leading units in the defense. If it is a narrow approach the maximum number of leading units is one. There are certain restrictions as to which units can be named leading units and these are clearly explained in the rules.


5. Attack Declaration

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Constantine observes through his looking glass the French troops deploying. He now realizes that the French plan to contest his advance. He has three infantry divisions and two Cavalry divisions in his Corps. He gathers his division commanders to discuss his plan of attack.  Constantine decides that he will attack with his entire Corps and selects his two strongest infantry divisions to lead the attack. He speaks to their commanders and now Orders the attack.

This is similar to the Defense Declaration. At this time the attacking player must decide which pieces will be committed to the attack and designate leading units (up to 2 units for a wide approach or one unit for a narrow approach). Even though only 2 units can lead the attack, designating more attacking units than the defender gives advantages if there is a tied combat result. Once again there are restrictions as to which units can be designated to lead the attack. A Corps order is then expended to move the units to initiate the attack.


6. Initial Result

The Allied line now advances and the leading units start to exchange fire with the French. The troops are choked by the gray smoke as their musket’s discharge. After several volleys of fire, the Allied troops charge forward and the wild melee ensues. At first the French troops stand their ground but unrelenting pressure forces them to waver. Lannes sees his leading line units faltering.

This is actually very simple. Both sides sum the strengths of their respective leading units with appropriate combat strength penalties applied.   Whoever has the greater total combat strength is the winner of the Initial Result. In this case, Constantine has 2 units each with a combat strength of 3 making his total combat strength 6. Lannes has an infantry unit with a Combat strength of 3 and one with a strength of 2 for a total of 5. Since Constantine has 1 more than Lannes, he is the winner of the Initial Result.


7. Counterattack

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Lannes is determined to hold this Approach or the entire French army could be jeopardized. He has never let Napoleon down! Of the three units he has committed to defend this approach, he still has the heavy cavalry division available to counterattack. He launches them into the unsuspecting Allied troops at a critical moment!

The defender has the option of adding more units to the fray in the hopes of reversing the momentum of the initial attack. The units designated to counterattack must have been selected as defending units in Step 2 (Retreat Option). Units that counterattack automatically lose one step but will have their remaining combat strength added to the defending leading units in the next step of the sequence where the final result is determined. Once again there are certain restrictions as to which units can be designated to counterattack.


8. Final Result

Initially the French line was being forced back but the brave charge of the French cavalry takes the Allied infantry by surprise. They are outnumbered and outmaneuvered. Suddenly their attack collapses and the proud divisions of the allied army now feel the momentum has turned. Their attack has been repulsed.

In this step the battle is actually decided. It is computed exactly the same way as in the Initial Results step, except that the combat strengths of the defender’s counterattacking units are now included. Whoever has the greatest total combat strength wins the combat.   The addition of the counterattacking cavalry has changed the math. Constantine still has 6 from his 2 infantry divisions but Lannes now has 7 (5 from the 2 infantry divisions and 2 from the cavalry since it immediately lost 1 strength point when the counterattack was declared). This results in a French victory!


9. Attacker Losses

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The Allied troops reel at their losses and leave dead and dying men on the ground. Some of the more courageous struggle to help the wounded as they contemplate retreat back up the road whence they came.

Losses are inflicted on the attacking units. In general, the loser takes losses equivalent to the number of the opposing player’s lead units             and the difference from the Final Result. In this case it is the attacker who will take the additional losses. So Constantine will take 2 for the two French lead defending units plus an additional 1 from the net differences in strengths in the Final Result Step.


10. Defender Losses

The medical corpsman start to treat the French wounded strewn all over the blood soaked ground. The defenders have suffered mightily but have repulsed the Allied attack. It is now time to consolidate their position.

The winner takes losses equivalent to the number of opposing lead units. Since the Allies had 2 leading units, Lannes must take 2 losses.


11. Completion

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The Allied troops retreat up the road back to the Locale from which they came. Constantine now has to contemplate his next move. His Corps has been bloodily repulsed and is now shattered. His attempt to pierce the French center has utterly failed and he will need time to reorganize his corps for another try later in the day. Meanwhile, Lannes decides to deploy some troops into the approach to better defend the road. He hopes that there will be no new attacks along this approach so that he can focus his remaining divisions on defending the other approaches to this Locale. For now, he allows himself a brief smile. He has served his Emperor well this day but there is more fighting… and more dying to be done.

In this step the loser must retreat his combat units. Corps that lose in battle must detach all but one unit leaving the Corps hopelessly shattered. Each turn they will have a chance to reattach one unit but it is a lengthy process to reorganize the Corps. The winner, in this case the defender, can now use any defending units that survived the combat to advance into the Approach. This tends to give them a defensive advantage in subsequent combats.


Summary

I hope this vignette increases your understanding of the logic of the attack sequence and allows you to visualize what is happening on the battlefield at each step. The attack sequence is the heart of this game and must be mastered before players can fully appreciate the nuanced beauty of Simmons’ design. I have deliberately omitted the specific mechanics and restrictions involved in each attack step so that you get a sense of the forest without being blinded by the trees. I suggest you now go back to rules and use this narrative to visualize each individual attack sequence step and its associated procedures.
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In my opinion, Napoleon’s Triumph is aptly named. It is truly a triumph of design. Simmons has delivered a most innovative war game that evokes the feel of Napoleonic grand tactics. The rectangular units and board graphics conjure the visual beauty of the period maps we have so often scrutinized. I strongly urge anyone interested in the Napoleonic era to take a look at this game and not be deterred by its pioneering concepts. Once digested, you’ll be aptly rewarded with hours of tense, challenging play.

Sword of Rome: The Roman Dilemma (Strategy)

The Roman Dilemma in GMT’s “Sword of Rome”

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Overview

The Sword of Rome is GMT’s card driven game on the early years of the city-state of Rome during its struggle to survive as an entity on the Italian peninsula. Given the strategic situation Rome faced, it is amazing they were able to survive and expand. How different would history have been if this small city had been vanquished by her many neighboring enemies? As the Roman player in The Sword of Rome, you will be faced with the same dilemma.

Let’s first look at Rome’s strategic situation. It is surrounded on three sides by enemies. To the north are the Etruscans, to the east are the Samnites and to the south are the Greeks. Adjacent to Rome are the well led and fierce Voscii tribe. If Rome must fight simultaneously on all these fronts, she will inevitably lose as the Romans do not have the manpower to fend off all these attackers. Also, all of their victory point cities are adjacent to enemy areas. Capua is cutoff to some degree by the Voscii and the Samnites making defense of this city problematical. Losing it early will result in a deficit in victory points that will accumulate turn after turn. Its loss also means 1 less reinforcement each turn which can be critical since Rome will be constantly fighting for its survival.

Other cities are also vulnerable. Sutrium and Narnia are exposed to first turn attack from the Etruscans. They only start with a loyalty level of 1 making them easily conquered by siege. The other Roman Victory Point spaces are Praeneste and Velitrae, both adjacent to Samnite territory though less easily threatened by Samnite forces early on. Therefore, the Roman strategy must be to prioritize the threats and act decisively against each in turn.


The Voscii First Strategy

Let us first examine the threat from the Voscii. They start adjacent to Rome and actually block Roman movement to its southernmost city, Capua. They are well led as their leader’s Tactical rating is 3. In Antium, they have a strong walled city difficult to besiege successfully. Fortunately, they start out with only 4 CU’s. Usually, other players will quickly utilize their Neutral Player Activates cards to reinforce the Voscii early in the first turn. Even 1 or 2 additional CU’s for them makes them a formidable force.

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Rome can gain several advantages by taking out the Voscii early. If they defeat the Voscii in battle, they can use the Support Points gained by the victory to add loyalty to Sutrium, Narnia or Capua, making these cities more difficult to besiege. Second it opens a more secure path to Capua so its defense becomes somewhat easier. Third, destruction of the Voscii removes one enemy permanently from the game. Fourth, taking Antium gives you an additional reinforcement each turn which will be sorely needed. To tackle the Voscii you must use Camillus, your best general with 10 Roman CU’s some of which must be picked up as you move through Roma. The ensuing combat will give you + 4 for the Force Ratio Modifier (+3 if the Voscii have been activated and reinforced), +1 for the better Leadership. If you have any combat cards with positive modifiers, now is the time to use them. The Voscii will have a +1 for combat in a friendly space. This results in a 79% chance of victory in battle (72% if the Voscii have been reinforced with a strength point from play of a Neutral Player Activates card). With a little luck, the Voscii will be completely destroyed and you can spend the next few card plays besieging Antium.

If the Voscii retreat into the city rather then risk a battle in the open plains before their city, they must leave 1 CU outside which will result in an Automatic Victory and you can still begin the siege. If they have been reinforced, they will have 2 CU’s outside the walls giving you an almost assured victory and 1 Support point. If they are not totally destroyed, the survivors must retreat into the city to sit out the siege.

It is easy in the first turn to get distracted from this strategy as the Etruscans may be besieging one of your cities (more on this later) or the Samnites or Greeks may be besieging Capua. You may react to this with Camillus by leaving a Minor Leader with enough CU’s to prosecute the siege and keep any surviving Voscii bottled up. However it is important to end this siege by the end of the first turn as you will probably need the extra CU reinforcement for the 2nd turn and you will have plenty of other things to keep you busy on turn 2.

The Voscii first strategy works best if you can make an alliance with the Etruscan/Samnite Player on turn 1. Now why should the sworn enemies of Rome do this? It may actually be to their advantage! They will almost certainly be attacked by the Gauls in the north on turn 1. They are threatened by Rome in the south with Tarquinii being very vulnerable. Loss of this city will cost them a victory point and 1 reinforcement. An alliance with Rome on the first turn assures the safety of Tarquinii and allows them to bring the army in Clusium up north to aid the army in Pisae. If they can take out a lot of Gaul CU’s on the first turn and then harass the Gauls with the Transalpine Gauls thereafter, the Etruscans will be in much better shape to face off against Rome on turn 2 or 3. The Samnites meanwhile can go for Neapolis or Tarentum (although it’s more difficult to besiege Neapolis) since an alliance with Rome prohibits an attack or siege of Capua.

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The other reason for an alliance with Rome on turn 1 is to prevent Rome and the Gauls from allying. Even if the Gauls have victory point cards for actions against Rome, it is much easier and safer to raid Etruscan territory on turn 1. A Gaul – Roman alliance is a nightmare for the Etruscans as they will now be fighting a 2 front war.


Plant Colonies Early

Rome’s special ability to plant Colonies is critical in the first two turns of the game. Ideally, the Roman player should form one colony on turn one and two colonies on turn two. These walled cities provide two crucial advantages that multiply over the course of the game. First and foremost they provide crucial protection to your victory point spaces since they will now have to be besieged to be captured by the enemy. Colonies at Praeneste and Velitrae defended by a few Roman combat units help protect Rome from direct attack by the Samnites. More importantly, a defended colony at Tarracina with a high Loyalty rating preserves your line of communications to Capua and can serve as a jumping off point for a late game attack on that Greek city of Neapolis.

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Second, each walled city for the Roman player provides one combat unit per Reinforcement Phase. In essence, they pay for themselves one turn later and provide crucial manpower each turn thereafter at a time when Rome’s enemies are also becoming more powerful. In this game, losing a battle can make an Army impotent due to the lack of combat units. This often results in loss of momentum and can drastically shift the strategic balance of power on the Italian peninsula. Therefore, the extra combat units generated each turn by these colonies represent a commodity of enormous importance.

Therefore, woe to the Roman player who ignores his ability to plant colonies as he will often be forced to fend off attacks from multiple directions with armies containing insufficient combat units. He will also be passing up easily attainable victory points.


It’s Time to Absorb the Etruscan Culture!

If Rome has been successful in conquering the Voscii, capturing Antium and planting a few colonies, he must now turn his attention to the Etruscans. Why the Etruscans? Quite simply, they are the more easily vanquished of Rome’s remaining rivals. Also there is the possibility of capturing Pisae and Tarquinii, two walled cities that will provide victory points for the Romans and badly needed Roman CU reinforcements each turn.

At this time, an alliance with the Gallic player is most helpful. This creates a two front war for the Etruscans which may mitigate their special Bribery ability. Tarquinii is most vulnerable to a Roman assault since it is only two spaces away from Roma and should be the first objective. The Roman player can then march up the coast to siege Pisae. The Etruscan player is likely to respond with attacks from Samnite territory and the Romans will have to go on the defensive here basing their defense on Roma, Antium, and, ideally, walled cities previously placed in Praeneste and Velitrae. If feasible, they should try to add Loyalty Points for Capua as a bulwark against the Samnites.

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Once the Etruscans are conquered, Rome will be in a position to go on the defensive in the north and sit back while they accumulate victory points and build up massive armies. Additionally, they will be able to take the best of the Etruscan culture and pass it off as their own for future generations.


The Endgame

If the Roman dilemma has been solved by implementing the strategies discussed above, the Roman player should be reaching the middle or late game gathering victory points and combat unit reinforcements from 10 victory point cities. This alone should be enough to give the Roman player victory. However, if the situation requires further conquests, he now faces a choice of two very tough opponents. The campaign against the Greeks is fraught with difficulty. The Greeks armies are usually superbly led by mercenary generals. Opportunities to gain victory points from conquered walled cities lie far to the south (except for Neapolis which is adjacent to Capua but usually strongly held by Greek armies). Additionally, Rome would be under pressure in the north from the Gauls and in the east from the Samnites.

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The Samnites are more easily accessible with three victory point spaces adjacent to Roman spaces. Attacking these Tribal spaces particularly when well-defended by Samnite combat units is an arduous proposition, yet probably preferable to a campaign against the distant Greeks. It will require good leadership and strong armies. Both of these should be readily available by this point in the game. Therefore, an attack against Fregellae is called for, as its capture provides victory points and will decrease Samnite reinforcements in following game turns. This campaign is likely to be very attritional but, in balance, this favors the Roman player because of his greater number of reinforcements each turn.

And what of the Greeks? At this point in the game they have likely conquered Carthage and will be threatening northward expansion. The Roman player must use hit and run tactics possibly combined with some naval landings to keep the Greeks off-balance while prosecuting any campaign against the Samnites. This will be a race against time as to whether the Roman player can complete his conquest of the Samnites before feeling pressure from the Greek armies. Hopefully, if play has unfolded according to the above strategies, the Roman player will have accumulated enough victory points to win the game before the Greeks arrive in force.


Summary

“Dilemma” was originally a technical term in rhetoric, denoting a form of argument in which one’s opponent is faced with a choice of two unfavorable alternatives. In the Sword of Rome, the Latins are faced with multiple unfavorable options against numerous enemies in extremely close proximity. How the Roman player solves this dilemma will lead him to an astounding victory or relegate him to a footnote in history (much as the Etruscan civilization found out). In this game, it will take clever diplomacy and hard fighting to solve this quandary. I doubt rhetoric will be enough.

Over the River and Through the Woods – A “Grant Takes Command” Board Game Replay

By Fred W. Manzo and Harvey Mossman

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Overview

A now well established and long enduring war game series called the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (published first by Avalon Hill and subsequently continued by Multi-Man Publishing) provides players with one of the most realistic experiences maneuvering and fighting an army during the American Civil War.

For those not familiar with the system, each Army in Grant Takes Command is organized into several corps each in turn made up of several divisions. Each army corps has an associated corps leader. Play alternates between players based on an initiative die roll with the Confederates winning ties. When a player wins initiative, he may take one of the following Actions:

  • 1) March a single Division
  • 2) Activate a Corps Leader to march multiple Divisions in his Corps
  • 3) Perform an Assault Action

Individual units move by roll of the dice. An infantry unit’s movement allowance equals the roll of one D6. If it is activated by its corps leader, it adds one to the die roll. Confederates, less burdened by large baggage trains and equipment, add an additional +1. Calvary rolls 2 dice with a +1 bonus for a Leader Activation and +2 if the consummate cavalry leader, Jeb Stuart is leading them.

These variable movement rates effectively simulate the vagaries of divisional level leaders acting timely to carry out orders, troop quality and various other factors that tend to add friction to a units march. In essence, units don’t always get to their objective when you expect. Movement along roads and paths is essential since clear terrain cost three movement points and more difficult terrain becomes cost prohibitive. Therefore, roads are absolutely critical to the efficient maneuvering of your army. Severe stacking penalties necessitate proper assignment of routes of advance for each of your army’s elements lest they become bogged down in traffic jams. This particularly applies in Grant Takes Command where much of the maneuvering is done through the dense forestation of the Wilderness.

Grant Takes Command
Grant Takes Command

Every time a unit activates it gains one Fatigue Level. Units may accumulate 4 Fatigue Levels in a single turn but are then prohibited from further activations. At Fatigue Levels 3 and 4, units must roll for the effects of Extended Marching which results in Disorganization (i.e., stragglers) or outright manpower losses due to desertion, disease and general army wastage. At the end of the turn there is a Recovery phase where each unit’s Fatigue is reduced by 3 levels, however units that have of Fatigue level greater than 2 become Exhausted, which results in harsher Extended March penalties. Therefore, the system of variable movement and escalating Fatigue forces the Army commander to properly develop his army maneuvers with an eye towards realistic objectives, proper routes of advance and the need to preserve Army coherence by avoiding unnecessary marches.

We haven’t played a game in the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series in quite some time, so a few weeks ago we broke out Multiman Publishing’s Grant Takes Command board game at our club. “Robert E.” Mossman took the Confederates and “Ulysses Simpson” Manzo took the Union. We played the Grant Crosses the Rapidan scenario, which is the opening battle in Ulysses Simpson Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign.

George Meade, leading the Army of the Potomac for Ulysses Grant as the campaign opened, proceeded very gingerly into the Wilderness. His tentativeness was caused by the need to protect the largest military wagon train in history that was breaking camp at Brandy Station and following the army south…– From the Playbook

Opening Maneuvers

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Confederate – First Thoughts from Harvey

Grant Takes Command simulates Grant’s summer offensive in the Eastern Theater in 1864. Fred is playing Grant and will control the Union army while I fill the shoes of Robert E. Lee. The strategic situation is daunting for the Confederates. Grant’s Army is poised to cross over the Rapidan River with an army that substantially outnumbers the Confederates. He also will have automatic Initiative for the first six Activations allowing each of his army corps one march before there can be any Confederate reaction. Grant’s immediate objectives are to get his ponderous baggage train to Wilderness Tavern and Spotsylvania Courthouse. Further to the west is Orange Courthouse. He must decide in which direction to maneuver. The western thrust will expose his supply lines to continuous Confederate raiding. The eastern will take him through the dense forestation of the Wilderness but, once traversed, he will have a secure left flank and supply lines firmly anchored on the river and guaranteed by naval superiority along the eastern seaboard. As Robert E. Lee I am immediately faced with a crisis. I have only three army corps to defend a river line that is extensive. Longstreet’s corps is absent one of his division which was historically assigned further south. My army is somewhat over deployed to the west of the likely main line of advance. Furthermore, Lee had to disperse his army so they could forage effectively since this area of the Eastern Theater had been devastated by the many campaigns of previous years. Dispersed, outnumbered, initially out of position, trying to defend an elongated line and not having initiative for the first six turns severely handicaps the Confederates.

Robert E. Lee was a genius for outguessing and outmaneuvering his opponents. I hope to be able to live up to even a fraction of his reputation. I’ve played Fred many times as the Confederates and have a good idea of his likely strategy. The nearest ford across the Rapidan River is Germanna Ford. This is the most likely approach and most direct route to Wilderness Tavern. There are several fords east of Germanna Ford but they will require additional marching which allows my cavalry to defend them before the Union army successfully crosses. Therefore, I expect Fred to head straight for Germanna Ford. His army will be constrained by having only one good path up the Germanna Plank Road. One handicap for the Union player is the need to protect a ponderous supply train which, if damaged or captured by the Confederates, results in a significant number of Confederate victory points.

My strategy is to bring up cavalry stationed at Hamilton’s Crossing and one isolated militia regiment to come in from the east aiming for Chancellorsville in an effort to bog down the Union army in the Wilderness. I cannot afford to allow Grant to march around my right flank where the open terrain will allow him to maneuver his army more effectively and bring his superior artillery in to play. In this game series, cavalry can perform a Cavalry Retreat the moment it becomes adjacent to enemy infantry. The cavalry becomes Disorganized and retreats 2 to 4 hexes but deducts movement points from the moving enemy infantry equal to one half of a modified d6 die roll. This nicely simulates the ability to use cavalry to screen enemy movements.

Next, I will march Ewell’s corps up the Turnpike heading for Wilderness Tavern in the hopes of cutting off Germanna Ford. A.P. Hill’s Corps will follow the Orange Plank Road east intending to reach Wilderness Church. Finally I will have Longstreet’s Corps do some hard marching along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad via Orange Courthouse and then turn East on the Orange Plank Road to support Ewell and A.P. Hill.

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It will all depend on rapid Confederate marching and winning Activations. If the Confederates can plow into the Union right flank and drive it back on the fords over the Rapidan, the ensuing confusion from demoralized and disorganized forces clogging the few roads through the Wilderness will make movement south almost impossible. The longer I can keep Grant’s Army in the Wilderness, the less I have to worry about the Union army’s superior numbers.

Union – First Thoughts from Fred

“One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished. I have frequently started to go places where I had never been and to which I did not know the way, depending upon making inquiries on the road, and if I got past the place without knowing it, instead of turning back, I would go on until a road was found turning in the right direction, take that, and come in by the other side.”– U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

Sam Grant’s main choices in the spring of 1864 were either to move to his left, in a southeasterly direction, over the Germanna Ford and through the Wilderness (a much fought over secondary growth forest immediately south of the Rapidan, that more than earned its name) or to move to his right in a southwesterly direction over open ground easily supplied by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. If he moved left, it would take him at least a day to get through the Wilderness. But if he moved quickly and Bobby Lee moved no faster than he had in similar situations, Grant just might make it to the green fields beyond Chancellorsville before the main Confederate force could reach him. Once in the open, his superior artillery and numbers would come into their own.

On the other hand, if Grant decided to move right, his long and land bound supply lines would be open to repeated raids by southern cavalry, a tactic he had experienced to his chagrin during his 1862 overland attack on Vicksburg when his main logistic base at Holly Springs was burned to the ground by Van Dorn.

Grant, not surprisingly, decided to move left. That way his supply lines would be short, mostly over water and practically unbreakable. Plus his opponents in the Army of Northern Virginia would have the smallest margin for error, having to march the furthest, in the shortest period of time.

In prior games I advanced cautiously over the Rapidan River to prevent my front line corps becoming Disorganized which reduces their combat strength by a third. Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee my units stay organized is to move them slowly. This, in turn, ensures that if the Confederates are willing to take some chances, which I know Harvey will, they can gain control of large portions of the Wilderness and its all-important crossroads well before I can seriously contest the situation. This in turn causes all sorts of problems for the Federal forces. First, the best defensive terrain is lost to the South. Second, it becomes ever more difficult to get troops over the Rapidan due to overcrowding on the limited road network. Third, it shortens the main line of resistance and so gives the rebels an all-around stronger position. Finally, the longer the Federals stay in the Wilderness, the longer the Army of the Potomac’s powerful artillery arm cannot effectively deploy and influence combat.

Players can think of the Wilderness road net as a rickety ladder, with the Germanna Ford Road, sometimes called the Germanna Plank Road, constituting its strong right hand rail. This route runs in generally a southeasterly direction, through the Wilderness from Grant’s base camp at Culpeper on the northern edge of the map, over the Rapidan, past Wilderness Tavern and Wilderness Church, to Chancellorsville and then on to Fredericksburg’s back door. The first rung of this imaginary ladder is created when the eastward flowing Rapidan meets the Germanna Ford Road at the Germanna Ford, itself. The second rung is formed further south when the Orange Court House Turnpike, which runs parallel to the Rapidan, meets the Germanna Road at Wilderness Tavern. The third rung is created when the still more southerly, but also parallel, Orange Plank Road meets the Germanna Ford Road at Wilderness Church, near the south-eastern exit to the Wilderness at Chancellorsville. The left hand rail of this ladder can be thought of as any of the secondary roads that cross the Rapidan east of the Germanna Ford. These alternate routes, which include crossings at the Culpeper Mine Ford and Ely’s Ford, among others, may constitute a long and winding path of minor roads but they are much less likely to be blocked by the Confederates than the Germanna Ford route.

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If I remember correctly the last time we played, I chose to move Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps along the north side of the Rapidan until it was far enough east to cross over and turn Lee’s right. Although I managed to pin Lee’s flank division against the river with this maneuver, being surrounded by Zones of Control in a GCACW game and being forced to retreat through them doesn’t result in an automatic elimination as it does in most other war games. The Rebs got out, much the worse for wear, but they got out.

Regrettably, you can’t depend on something like that happening. So I’ll Extend March and Force March my first few units as far as possible directly into the Wilderness and then use their 4th Fatigue Level to build abatis (that’s pronounced ab′•at•tēz, which is the 19th century version of wooden barbed wire). Abatis increases defensive combat strength by 50% which hopefully will make up for any combat strength reduction I suffer by Disorganization generated along the way. If many of my units are going to be marching hard and then go on the defensive it makes sense to be the “first’st with the most’st” in this position.

Please don’t consider this replay an example of best play, especially on the Union side. It’s more accurate to say it’s a review of play, period. I just stepped on all the land mines so you don’t have to.


Day 1 – May 5th, 1864

“Battle be damned. It ain’t no battle, it’s a worse riot than Chickamauga! At Chickamauga there was at least a rear, but here there ain’t neither front nor rear. It’s all a damned mess! And our two armies ain’t nothing but howling mobs.”– A captured Confederate private describing the Battle of the Wilderness

Day 1 – Confederate Moves by Harvey

May 5th dawns with the Union army marching hard for Germanna Ford as expected but much to Fred’s chagrin, Hancock’s II Corps gets bogged down just over the ford due to poor movement die rolls. The cavalry fares much better and comes streaming over the Rapidan River occupying important crossroads at Wilderness Church, Chancellorsville and Tabernacle Church. My cavalry marches east along the Orange Turnpike and the Orange Plank Road towards Tabernacle Church where it gets the worst of an encounter with the Union cavalry and falls back. Nevertheless it delays the Union cavalry from securing routes out of the Wilderness. Ewell rapidly marches up the Turnpike through Locust Grove and takes a position immediately to the west of Flat Run Church and Wilderness Tavern. He effectively straddles the Germanna Plank Road making it difficult for Union troops to pass through. A.P. Hill’s Corps follows on hard. Grant’s Army gets hopelessly entangled trying to march through the meager road network of the Wilderness north of the Rapidan. Fred makes numerous Extended Marches resulting in a fully fatigued Union army that has taken significant losses in manpower from Extended and Forced marching. One of the key elements of this game is in knowing how hard to push your army. Excessive marching can rapidly exhaust your units making it difficult for them to effectively maneuver the following day. As exhaustion builds, the army becomes more brittle with units more likely to become Disorganized and lose manpower as they march.

At the end of May 5th, both armies are fairly exhausted although the Union army is certainly the worse for wear.

Day 1 – Union Moves by Fred

Well, guess what? Things didn’t work out as I planned! Which they seldom do in any GCACW game anyway. One of the great things about this series is that you get a glimpse of some of the problems Civil War generals faced when moving large bodies of troops with limited technology. First, there are few roads through the Wilderness and when your lead unit, which in my case was Hancock’s II Corps, moves slowly things can spiral out of control. I had expected better of him. Then when I Extended Marched his corps to clear the road for Uncle John Sedgwick’s VI Corps, his divisions became disorganized and started leaking stragglers like crazy. Hancock the Superb, indeed! To make matters worse, the Rebels reacted with more than their usual effectiveness and were closing in on all the vital crossroads and the critically important fords behind them. I guess that happens when the Rebs win something like 6 of the first 8 initiative rolls and are led by someone as good as Harvey!

As the first rule of campaigning in the Wilderness is to control as many crossroads as possible, I decided to send Sheridan’s cavalry Corps in a wide left hook over secondary roads east of Germanna Ford to contest as many choke points as possible. After splashing across the Rapidan at the Culpeper Mine Ford they did manage to smash the smaller Rebel cavalry screen before being, in turn, driven in by Lee’s hard marching veterans. Next, Warren’s Corps came up and extended my left through Wilderness Church along the Germanna Road line. While these tactics seemed to have worked, the two Union corps that constituted my main line of resistance along the Germanna Plank Road, south of Wilderness Tavern, that is Uncle John Sedgwick’s and Hancock’s, became seriously intermingled in the ensuing fight. This didn’t affect their defensive ability, but it does tend to make it more difficult to launch serious offensive punches from these positions.

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Day 2 – May 6th

“At the height of the excitement, an officer rushed to Grant and urgently volunteered advice. ‘General Grant, this is a crisis that cannot be looked upon too seriously,’ he warned. ‘I know Lee’s methods well by past experience; he will throw his whole army between us and the Rapidan, and cut us off completely from our communications.” Grant stood, pulled a cigar from his mouth, and spoke his mind. ‘Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do,’ he roared back with unaccustomed heat at the startled officer, “Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.”– Rhea, The Battle of the Wilderness, pp. 421-22.

Day 2 – Confederate Moves by Harvey

The Confederate player has to be aggressive in this scenario otherwise Grant’s army will wind its way through the Wilderness and out to the clear terrain beyond. Even though the Union Army’s units tend to be stronger than the Confederates, the combat system in this game rewards tactical expertise, quality leadership and maneuvers around the flank.

To perform combat, both players roll a single die and add modifiers to their totals. The modifiers are the key to combat moreso than the actual strength of the units involved. Each unit is rated for its tactical prowess and the difference between the tactical ratings of the combatants serves as a modifier. Leaders present in the hex usually augment the tactical modifier. The presence of Robert E. Lee adds another positive modifier. Units can attack from the March which will involve one marching division attacking an enemy stack while moving. An attack from March can be Hasty, Normal or Prepared costing 1, 2, or 4 movement points respectively. A Hasty attack will give you a detrimental -1 modifier but a Prepared attack gives a +1 modifier. Normal attacks do not give any modifier. Flanking bonuses can be achieved based on the number of hexes surrounding the defending enemy unit your forces cover with zones of control and can range from +1 to +4. If the enemy unit has Refused Flanks, these flanking bonuses are somewhat mitigated. Artillery can also modify the combat die rolls but in the dense terrain of the Wilderness, this rarely comes into play. Finally, superior combat strength gives a +1 modifier for each odds ratio greater than 1 : 1 and a -1 modifier for each odds ratio less than 1:1 if the attacking force is inferior to the defender. The defender gains bonuses when defending behind water obstacles. Once all of the bonuses are totaled for each side a competitive die roll is made and the difference of the die rolls is applied to the combat results table based on the strength of the attacking and defending units resulting in Fatigue, Retreats, Routs, combat strength losses and 2 possible levels of Demoralization.

Players do not have to attack from the March. They can attempt to launch an Assault which brings in several units in a single stack from a single corps. Given the difficulties of communication and coordination in the 19th century, Assaults are not guaranteed to occur and players must roll less than or equal to their leader’s command rating with the die roll result also determining how many units actually perform the attack. If a corps leader successfully initiates an Assault and one of the Army leaders are within three hexes, he may attempt to launch a Grand Assault which can bring in several attacking units in hexes adjacent to the original assaulting units. This requires a die roll less than the Army commander’s command rating. An Assault automatically gives the attacker a +1 die roll modifier.

I boldly decided to launch several divisional attacks from the March just to the south of Wilderness Tavern. Two Union divisions are routed by these attacks from Ewell’s corps but the last push by Ewell results in a nasty repulse and ends most of the fighting for the day. In the meantime, Longstreet advances up the Orange Plank Road to be ready for action on May 7th.

After two days of hard marching and some hard fighting, both armies are extremely fatigued. My Army refits overnight during the Recovery Phase whereby units regain three levels of Fatigue, flip to their Exhausted sides if they already have a 3 or 4 Fatigue level, remove Demoralization and become Reorganized if they start the phase with a Fatigue level of 2 or less. They can also start to build breast works and entrench during the Recovery phase. My men are looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Day 2 – Union Moves by Fred

The Secess opened the second day of battle by launching a strong offensive against my weakened center around Wilderness Tavern. These attacks managed to rout Ricketts’ division of Uncle John’s VI Corps and Barlow’s division of Hancock’s II Corps. It wasn’t a Grand Assault but rather a series of attacks on the March with Bobby Lee in personal command. Happily, their third attack fell short as Robinson’s division of Warren’s V Corps held and I had a chance to counter-attack. But then Grant failed to trigger a Grand Assault. Fortunately, the Assault itself was enough to restore the situation and stabilize my center around Wilderness Tavern.

One of the secrets to playing a Great Campaigns of the American Civil War scenario as the Union is in using Leader Activations and Grand Assaults efficiently, while keeping Force Marches to an absolute minimum. And considering that I only managed one out of these three, my position isn’t as bad as it could have been. I have to admit, however, that my plan to use Extended March and Force March into strong defensive positions was not terribly well executed. To begin with, my units moved much too slowly and lost men to straggling much too quickly. Then the traffic jam that ensued slowed down their movement even further. However, Sheridan’s men are still holding my left flank and the road to Fredericksburg is still blocked only by some demoralized Confederate cavalry. But my main line is little more than strong points strung out along the Germanna Plank Road. I do have a well-organized and rested corps marching up in support (Ambrose Burnside’s IX) so things aren’t hopeless for the National forces. But the losses are heavily in the Confederate’s favor, mostly due to marching my two forward corps into the ground, which only goes to show that running a large army in GCACW is an art one doesn’t learn simply by reading the rules. It is a balance between moving quickly and getting to where you have to be versus losing men and fatiguing your army. And it’s only learned from experience.

From my point of view, the question has become “Are the stronger but slower moving Union forces being fed into the cauldron at a fast enough pace to overcome the quicker reacting, but weaker Confederates?” And the only way to find this out is to run the scenario to its end.

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Day 3 – May 7th

“During the 7th Sheridan had a fight with rebel cavalry at Todd’s Tavern, but routed them, thus opening the way for the troops that were to go by that route at night…With my staff and a small escort of cavalry I preceded the troops. Meade with his staff accompanied me. The greatest enthusiasm was manifested by Hancock’s men as we passed by. No doubt it was inspired by the fact that the movement was south. It indicated to them that they had passed through the “beginning of the end” in the battle just fought. The cheering was so lusty that the enemy must have taken it for a night attack. At all events it drew from him a furious fusillade of artillery and musketry, plainly heard but not felt by us.”– U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

Day 3 – Confederate Moves by Harvey

“Like a fine lady at a party, Longstreet was often late in his arrival at the ball. But he always made a sensation and that of delight, when he got in, with the grand old First Corps sweeping behind him as his train.”– Private William Dame, Rhea, Wilderness, p. 295

Longstreet’s Corps has finally come up to join the fray. He is greeted by a big Rebel Yell! I exhort my men to the attack once more and General Heth responds vigorously. He routs Robinson’s division of the Union V Corps west of Wilderness Church and drives deep into the center of the Federal’s line. A.P. Hill’s Corps joins the battle and pushes back Wadsworth’s division dramatically increasing the Yankee’s manpower losses and gaining Victory Points for the Rebels. Longstreet completes my oblique attack coming up on the Brock Road and drives in the Union left flank all the way to the Rapidan River.

Bobby Lee can be very proud of the performance of his men so far. I spend what activations I have left beginning to build abatis and breast works to prepare for the eventual Union attempts to break out of their bridgehead.

Meanwhile, Jeb Stuart starts to carefully maneuver his cavalry east towards the river crossings around Fredericksburg. He attacks some Union cavalry who were probing east of the Wilderness and eliminates them. Then he starts to formulate a plan. With the demoralized and fatigued Union Army hemmed into a small bridgehead just south of the Rapidan River, it may just be time for a cavalry raid into their rear threatening the baggage train.

By days end, I have a fortified line running from Tom’s Ford in the East to Wilderness Tavern, then northwest to Flat Run Church. Ewell’s Corps holds my left flank and A.P. Hill has fortified the center. Longstreet firmly anchors my right flank. Cavalry guards all the fords along the Rappahannock River from Blind Ford to Fredericksburg.

Day 3 – Union Moves by Fred

The Army of Northern Virginia’s Third Corps renewed their divisional attacks on my left-center around Wilderness Church and Wilderness Tavern. Heth attacked Robinson’s division of the Union’s V Corps west of Wilderness Church and, with the help of a rebel yell, routed him. Nearby, A.P. Hill attacked Wadsworth’s division with a prepared attack from the march and also forced him back. Longstreet then came up on my left flank via the Brock road (a minor path that passes through Todd’s Tavern on the southern edge of the Wilderness). Although the long march had disorganized the Confederate First Corps, its additional strength was the final blow to my weakened left flank. My survivors routed all the way back to the Rapidan. Wilderness Tavern and Wilderness Church crossroads have now fallen to rebel infantry and the Germanna Ford Road is cut.

As one can guess, as army commander, a routed unit can ruin your whole day. It not only demoralizes the troops involved making them useless for offensive operations, it also increases their Fatigue level thereby limiting their ability to activate the rest of the turn. To make matters worse, they will be judged Exhausted during the next Recovery Phase, which increases straggling if you order them to move. Finally, you have to find another unit to plug the hole in your line created when they are retreated. Of course, their retreat path is usually so long that it separates them from the other divisions in their corps, which also wrecks the efficiency of your Leader Activations. That is, once they are more than 3 hexes from their commander, at least one separate order will be needed to get them back into Command range even when they do recover.

In any event, in a running fight, Jeb Stuart next chased down a couple of my Union cavalry units that had momentarily broken through the eastern exit of the Wilderness. The brawl almost took them to Fredericksburg. By the time he got back, other Union cavalry had managed to advance across the river, east of the ANV’s main line of resistance, at Bank’s ford. But, all in all, the Union forces have found themselves in a bad way. On the south side of the Rapidan the Union holds a small bridgehead beyond the Germanna Ford, built around Hancock’s Corps and part of Sedgwick’s. The Army of Northern Virginia holds a number of the fords to its east and we have a cavalry bridgehead along the Rappahannock, east of where it meets the Rapidan. Burnside’s men, which I was depending on to hold my left flank against Longstreet, and possibly even to counter-attack, did not so much as march to the sound of the guns as crawl (I rolled 1’s on their first TWO activations). But they’ve finally gotten to the river in good order. Late, but in good order.

So, basically, my best option now is to re-organize my scattered Union corps and to rest those of my units exhausted and demoralized from fighting. Hopefully my army will perform more admirably on May 8th.

In return, however, this allowed the Confederates to construct a series of entrenched strong points all across my front, south of the river. My only hope is that a Grand Assault tomorrow will break through. If one does, even if it is only in one position, Harvey’s troops will have to maneuver to restore their line and so lose the benefit of any new entrenchments.

On the bright side, I’m having fun wrestling with all these new problems and I’m learning the ins and outs of the system. So, all is not lost.

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Day 4: May 8th

Day 4 – Confederate Moves by Harvey

“Sure enough, Robert E. hasn’t many men, but what he’s got are right good ones, and I reckon you’ll find it out before you leave here.”– Confederate Prisoner

Robert E. Lee gathers his commanders and discusses the strategy for today’s battle. The Confederate Army will continue to entrench and wait for the expected assault. Jeb Stuart will maneuver his cavalry waiting for an opportune time to launch a lightning raid across the Rappahannock aiming for the Union baggage train which has been slowly winding its way south. In this scenario, manpower losses and losses to the baggage train yield victory points. The Union losses have been enormous. Grant has lost 28 strength points marching and fighting while the Confederates have only lost 6 strength points. Since each Union loss gives the Confederates 2 victory points, my plan of action is to allow the Union to assault my fortified line in the hopes of causing even more horrendous casualties while breaking their spirit with a surprise assault around their left flank to attack their baggage train.

However, as Robert E. Lee opened the flap to his command tent, he failed to account for the determination and ferocity of the Union soldier fighting “desperately in earnest”.

Grant is able to win six straight initiative die rolls launching a series of Assaults and Grand Assaults on the center of my line. Burnside moves across Ely’s Ford and launches an Assault on Anderson’s division. He does not roll well for the Assault roll and only Wilcox division joins the assault. Nevertheless, he successfully routs Anderson despite the battle having even die roll modifiers. Better to have a lucky general than a good one I always say. There is now a hole in the Confederates center and Robert E. Lee faces a crisis. Unfortunately, Fred wins the initiative yet again and the Confederates are unable to react to this turn of events. Burnside has to make a crucial decision regarding how this attack will develop. He can exploit South with his divisions cracking the Confederate line. Instead, Burnside chooses to maneuver in conjunction with units from the VI corps wasting precious activations and further fatiguing his victorious units. He now organizes a Grand Assault utilizing Wilcox, Stevenson and Robinson to hit the flank of General Heth’s boys retreating them from their entrenchments. This is definitely not the General Burnside that I have come to know and love! Burnside is now just 2 miles north of Wilderness Church and its important crossroads. However, he is unable to exploit this yawning gap in the Confederate line because all of his units are now at Fatigue level 4. The battle leaves Warren’s VI corps disorganized, fatigued and scattered across the Union line. Finally, Robert E. Lee wins an Activation and shifts Field’s division into the hole stabilizing the Confederate line. The crisis is averted!

It is now time to launch Jeb Stuart across the Rappahannock. Marching across some unguarded fords he marches north along the Telegraph Road to Stafford Courthouse and then heads west. At Skinner’s Store he slips by Torbert and, with brilliant marching, maneuvers along the Hardwood Road sidestepping Sheridan, finally coming to grips with the Union baggage trains. A normal attack from March results in losses and retreat of the baggage train scoring many victory points. Perhaps this will bring redemption for Stuart’s performance at Gettysburg!

The day ends with the Confederate line stabilized, Confederate cavalry raiding in the Union rear and staggering Union manpower losses from their assaults against the Confederates breastworks in the center of the line. Despite the Union successes in the center, it came at high-cost and was not exploited. As night falls over the battlefield, Robert E. Lee can be proud of his boys. He did not expect that in his counterpart’s command tent, Grant was contemplating retreat back across the Rapidan!

Day 4 – Union Moves by Fred

“The most immovable commander might have been shaken. But it was in just such sudden emergencies that General Grant was always at his best. Without a change of a muscle on his face, or the slightest alteration in the tone of his voice, he quietly interrogated the officers who bought the reports then sifting out the truth from the mass of exaggerations, he gave directions for relieving the situation.”– General Horace Porter, Campaigning With Grant, The Century, Volume 53

The 4th day of fighting saw Jeb Stuart attack the cavalry bridgehead around Bank’s ford south of the Rappahannock and drive the defenders back north once again. Burnside’s IX Corps finally crossed the Rapidan at Ely’s ford heading south. He got two of his divisions across, but had to leave Wilcox and Ferraro on the north bank. As usual, it was difficult to move large numbers of troops along a single road and still get them anywhere near the enemy. But as I didn’t push them this time, they at least got where they were going in good order.

It was at this point that we began to notice an unusual occurrence: the Union was winning initiative rolls one after the other. The 3rd activation win in a row saw all of Burnside’s troops across the Rapidan AND bunched for the attack! Burnside now decides to launch an Assault and Grant attempted to upgrade it to a Grand Assault. Luckily, IX Corps all went in together, but then the vital Grand Assault failed. Regrettably, that only brought the all-important DRM difference to zero, so things didn’t look particularly good for the North. Burnside really did need the extra punch the Grand Assault would have provided. We then rolled and miraculously, the Union obtained a “6” while the Rebels rolled a “1.” So the battle results were decided on the + 5 combat line! The entrenched Confederate center routed!

(As a side note, most players I’ve seen don’t actually add their DRMs to their die roll and then compare their totals, as mentioned in the rules. Instead they calculate the DRM differential between themselves and then add in the die roll differential produced by both rolls. It really ends up in the same place, but it seems more convenient and it does provide players with an added bit of data: the DRM differential.)

The Union won the initiative once again and I had to decide if I would try to launch a second Grand Assault immediately to the west of the first. However, I would either need this activation to surround Heth with Sedgwick’s VI Corps and another to launch a Grand Assault against him, or I could try a Grand Assault immediately with some of Burnside’s men (but not have Heth surrounded). As there is only a 42 percent chance of the Union winning an initiative roll, I decided to go in now with what I had now. This time the Grand Assault allowed 4 additional hexes to join in, although only two had troops in them. But those two held Wilcox and Robinson’s divisions. It was still a chancy thing with only a + 1 DRM differential. Fortunately, the die rolls added another 2 to the differential and the attack was resolved on the +3 combat line! This resulted in the rebel’s center lurching back, but Burnside’s men had all reached their fatigue level 4 as a result.

Unbelievably, the 6th initiative die roll in a row also went to Grant. So I decided to attack a third Southern strong point near the Rapidan and widen the breach as much as possible. It was the only practicable way I could see to keep the pressure on the Army of Northern Virginia, as all my other men in the Wilderness were either fatigued out or were facing well entrenched forces without the benefit of Flank bonus DRMs.

My last target, sadly, was an entrenched position south of Blind ford, where the Rapidan and the Rappahannock meet and directly east of my main thrust that could only be surrounded by Restricted Zones of Control. These ZoC do not stop movement. So although I won the assault and thus widened the penetration as I had wanted, Field’s division of Longstreet’s First Corps escaped the level of destruction that I had initially hoped for.

Note: This is an error, being surrounded by restricted Zones of Control and retreating through them is not the same as moving through Restricted Zones of Control. As per page 24 of the rules “ Restricted ZOC affect retreats and routs just like normal ZoC,” so Field’s division should have taken more damage than it did. However, this wouldn’t have changed the situation as his division would still have survived and the Union forces would still have been exhausted.

This did result, however, in the entire Rebel line being pushed all the way back to the vicinity of the Wilderness Church and Wilderness Tavern area. And more importantly, the Rebels were now dependent on demoralized troops to hold their center. Regrettably for the Army of the Potomac, the troops facing them were no longer capable of going on, at least for today.

Now, I must admit my grand counter-attack was greatly helped by winning 6 initiative rolls in a row (and the seventh was only lost on a 1 to 1 tie!) This allowed me to bring up well over a corps adjacent to the southern strong point defenses and to launch repeated Assaults and Grand Assaults after maximizing my Flank bonus DRMs and all this was without any southern interference. But as the South had enjoyed a similar string of initiative wins on the first day of fighting, I guess you could say that turnabout is fair play.

With both side’s troops in the Wilderness spent, cavalry on the flanks now came into their own. Jeb Stuart swung far to the east, crossed the river to its northern bank and tried to duplicate one of his famous “rides around the Union Army.” What a publicity hound! Sheridan activated Torbert and gave chase personally. Finally, Torbert’s troops surrounded Stuart, near Pineview P.O., about 8 miles from the all-important wagon trains. Because normal Zones of Control stop movement and Stuart was surrounded by them, I assumed that he could now be crushed at my leisure. However, I’ve learned it’s never wise to underestimate Harvey. Unbelievably, he got out of this box by winning two initiative die rolls in a row. The first let him move from one ZoC to another and the second sent him galloping off after the wagon trains themselves. He then managed to attack and damage a wagon train unit and collect 4 Victory Points before Torbert’s troopers could come to their rescue.

It was at this point, with the center stabilized in the Wilderness and the point total so heavily in the Confederate favor that it seemed impossible for the troops that were left to secure even a marginal Union victory, that we decided to call the game. It was time. We had played for 4 complete evenings (12 hours or so) and while we had great fun, the situation had developed into a clear Southern victory. Perhaps it could be said that we had reached our 4th fatigue level.

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After Action Reports

Confederate – Final Thoughts by Harvey

This game was great fun and Fred was certainly a terrific opponent. Just when I thought I had him hemmed into a small bridgehead across the Rapidan he was able to break through my entrenched lines and make Robert E. Lee’s hair a little whiter with worry.

I absolutely love this game series as it wonderfully simulates the difficulties in maneuvering a 19th-century Army during the Civil War. This scenario accurately demonstrates the problems Grant (and Hooker before him) had in getting through the Wilderness. The Confederates have a couple of advantages including generally better leadership and winning tied initiative die rolls. The Union player has generally stronger divisions and much better artillery. Winning strategies involve maintaining the cohesion of your forces with judicious use of marches. As your units’ fatigue levels increase, their potential for threatening the enemy decreases. Managing your units’ potential to threaten your opponent is of utmost importance. Fred was probably overly aggressive with his marches in the beginning fearing that he would not cross in force over the Rapidan before the Confederates arrived. However his Union Army arrived fatigued, disorganized and reduced by manpower losses from extended marches. This lessened the potential for him to threaten my army allowing me to counterattack and eventually develop a line of breastworks across his planned route of advance.

The variable movement allowances wonderfully simulate the frustration of Civil War Army and Corps commanders trying vainly to get their units in proper positions. Hancock’s slow advance to the fords over the Rapidan resulted in a slowed approach of the whole Union Army. It could not be anticipated but Grant would have been better served by delineating multiple routes of advance so that their entire Army does not get bogged down. Burnside’s lethargic march to the river prevented his corps from having any impact on the first few days.

I highly recommend this game series to anyone and hope that Multi-Man Publishing eventually decides to reprint the entire series (all of the previous games are long out of print). The Battle Above the Clouds is the latest game in the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series and moves the action from the Eastern theater to the Western theater where the armies and leadership were completely different. Anyone interested in the American Civil War should make the time to experience one of these masterpieces.

Union – Final Thoughts by Fred

As one would expect of a sophisticated simulation, GCACW requires numerous plays in order to learn its finer points. Obviously, I haven’t spent nearly enough time with it to master the system, but I plan to because I think this is superior war game.

My main problem was that I was even rustier with the effects of some rules than I thought. I really shouldn’t have marched two corps over the same road to Exhaustion. Traffic control in the Wilderness is paramount and the GCACW system harshly handles people who don’t realize this. So remember, there are multiple fords over the Rapidan and although they are not all equal, they are acceptable alternatives in the opening phases of the battle.

Second, while it’s best for units to spread out on the defense, in order to prevent small enemy forces from “oozing” past you, it’s also important to concentrate on the offense to produce the greatest punch during Assaults and Grand Assaults. Finding the proper balance between these opposing imperatives is what leads to victory. Of course, since the Confederates are more likely to win initiative rolls (they prevail a healthy 58% of the time) they are not that dependent on Assaults. You’d be surprised how effective consecutive Prepared attacks from the march (giving them a +1 Die Roll Modifier), led by generals with higher tactical ratings (usually +1 DRM advantage), against targets where they enjoy a 2 to 1 Odds advantage whenever possible (another + 1 DRM advantage) and helped by a little oozing (a +2 or so Flank Bonus DRM) can be in battle. From my calculations, any attack that starts with a +3 DRM differential will result in the attacker having a massive 72.2 percent chance of using the + 2 Combat Results line or better. In other words, using the lines on the Combat Results Table that ensures the attacker can capture the hex under attack.

It’s important to remember that DRMs are the heart of this combat system and the side that generates the most will, in all likelihood, emerge the winner. While GCACW allows players to produce DRMs in all sorts of ways, the easiest methods of producing them in numbers are either by concentrating a large force in order to maximize your “Odds DRMs” or by surrounding your opponent with multiple units and Zones of Control (ZoC) in order to maximize your “Flank Bonus DRMs.” This in turn may be accomplished by remembering that every unit can move a minimum of one hex no matter what ZoC situation it finds itself in. So when your opponent concentrates his forces in order to minimize your “Odds DRMs” you can counter by oozing past his centralized position and maximizing your “Flank DRMs.” If he counters this maneuver by “Refusing his Flank,” (which decreases the attacker’s Flank DRM bonus but increases his frontal assault DRMs), you, as the attacker, could respond by directly hitting his weakened center. Just remember that your oozing unit’s strength must be greater than one quarter of the defending units or they’ll fail to produce a Flank bonus. Whatever the situation, these units could eventually be drawn into the battle if you succeed in upgrading your attack to a Grand Assault. Of course, these smaller forces will become Disorganized when you move from one normal ZoC to another (if the hexes are not connected by a road, pike, railroad or trail) and these units are susceptible to counter-attack as soon as you lose the initiative. But the added DRMs created by Flank bonuses will usually be worth the extra risks you took to generate them.

So, in summary, I had a lot of fun, learned a thing or two about the effects of various rules and lost. Well, two out of three ain’t bad!

Game Over


Historical Orders of Battle

-from Wikipedia

At the beginning of the campaign, Grant’s Union forces totaled 118,700 men and 316 guns. They consisted of the Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and the IX Corps (until May 24 formally part of the Army of the Ohio, reporting directly to Grant, not Meade), and was organized into five Corps:

Union Corps Commander Notes
II Corps Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock Including the divisions of Maj. Gen. David B. Birney and Brig. Gens. Francis C. Barlow, John Gibbon, and Gershom Mott
V Corps Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren Including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Charles Griffin, John C. Robinson, Samuel W. Crawford, and James S. Wadsworth
VI Corps Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick Including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Horatio G. Wright, George W. Getty, and James B. Ricketts
IX Corps Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside Including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Thomas G. Stevenson, Robert B. Potter, Orlando B. Willcox, and Edward Ferrero
Cavalry Corps Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan Including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Alfred T.A. Torbert, David McM. Gregg, and James H. Wilson

Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia comprised about 64,000 men and 274 guns and was organized into four Corps:

Confederate Corps Commander Notes
First Corps Lt. Gen. James Longstreet Including the divisions of Maj. Gen. Charles W. Field and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw
Second Corps Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell Including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Jubal A. Early, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes
Third Corps Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill Including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and Cadmus M. Wilcox
Cavalry Corps Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart Including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee

The Art of “Card Driven Game” Design – Why Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage is the best CDG ever published

By Fred W. Manzo, Gary Andrews and Harvey Mossman

The cards in a CDG wargame are typically used to move armies, generate random events and produce some Fog-of-War. Now, while the Card Driven Game concept is generally considered to be one of the most important advances in boardgaming over the last 30 years, not all of the designs using this system are equally successful. The proposition of this article is that Card Driven Games create tense, well fought contests only when they follow 6 basic principles.

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They stress:

  • Elegance: Obviously, asking for elegant games is not the same as asking for simplistic games. Elegance is having a minimum number of simple rules produce a maximum number of intriguing options. One way Card Driven Games achieve this is by placing some of their rules on cards as alternatives so that they interact in various ways with the rest of the system depending on when and how their card is played.This approach has many advantages. First, it enhances the dramatic quality of a game as players become aware of unfolding stratagems only when the game proceeds. Second, if a particular card isn’t dealt, players do not have to spend time considering any special rule it contains. And third, it increases a game’s level of tension, as highly involved mechanisms either halt play while people argue about their finer points or everyone must memorize all their intricacies. THIS IS NOT FUN.Unfortunately, some do not see the CDG concept as a method of streamlining games but as a chance to increase their complexity through the extra resources such designs require. That is, while a non-CDG game might have, say, a total of 20 pages of rules on 20 pages of paper, we now are getting wargames cluttered with 23 pages of rules simply spread over 20 pages of paper, a few player’s aid sheets and 55 cards. In some ways, it’s an improvement but it doesn’t use a game’s assets to their fullest potential. Eloquence counts for something.
  • Depth: The primary job of event cards in a CDG is to create simultaneous dilemmas. For your opponent and for yourself. If one player has a particular card he might use it to gain X but if he utilizes it another way he might gain Y. Now, does he have that card? And if he does, how will he use it? And how badly will it affect you? And what can you do to counter it? Playing a CDG should be about making tough decisions regarding difficult problems and managing the consequences. Simply put, superior games contain high levels of uncertainty.Undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to do this is to have an event that is no more than a one-time exception to a standard rule. That is, to a good game designer every rule suggests a random event that cancels its effect. For example: in Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage most armies move 4 spaces but with the right card some move 6 (Forced March) and some move 2 (Bad Weather). This increases the Fog-of-War element in a game without noticeably increasing its rules overhead.Another way to create tense situations is to use a battle resolution system that gives some level of hope and fear to both players. In HRC this is done by using a separate card system that is famous for giving defenders some slim chance no matter what the odds.
  • Choice: If games are judged on how well they produce unexpected problems, then those that allow players the widest possible range of actions should succeed.There are at least 5 ways CDG can increase the number of choices available to players: 1) they can have a large event deck, 2) they can increase the number of ways each card may be used, 3) they can ensure each event is easily triggered, 4) they can differentiate cards, which produces more unique situations and 5) they can allow events to be linked into powerful combinations.

    A. Simply increasing the size of a random event deck in a CDG may seem the best way to increase a player’s options but things are not that straight-forward. First, extra cards are expensive to print and second, the more cards there are, the less likely it is that any particular card will appear in a game. For example: in Washington’s War, it is entirely possible for the Patriots to fight the American Revolution to a successful conclusion without ever having declared independence, as the “Declaration of Independence” event may not have appeared.

    B. A second way to increase the number of choices a player’s hand produces is to allow cards to be used in multiple ways, perhaps even having multiple events on each card. For example, The War of the Ring is famous for this very approach. However, some other games, such as The Hammer of the Scots and Athens and Sparta, go their own way by having, say, only 6 random events out of an event deck of 55 cards, with the other 49 cards being solely used to move troops. Admittedly, “single use” cards speed play, but they also limit a game’s re-play value as all you see time after time are the same events, merely in a different order: in your first game there is a storm and a while later an earthquake and in the endgame a plague, and in the next game the earthquake occurs first, then later the storm and finally the plague. There are no combinations. There are no “hooks.” If it’s not on the cards, it’s just not going to happen. While there are certain advantages to having single use cards and sporadic random events, there are also certain advantages to building a piano with only 12 keys. It’s just that, all other things being equal, games with a high percentage of “multiple options” cards provide players with richer opportunities.

    C. Another method CDG use to expand player’s choices is to see that every card can be easily triggered. Yet there are designers who, instead, prefer to narrow a player’s choice by limiting their ability to activate events. They defend this practice by insisting that “there were historical incidents that were awfully unlikely but they did happen. And as our game was limited to 55 cards, we had to make these events harder than normal to trigger, such as by having players also roll a 1 on a ten-sided die or by demanding the use of a precursor event.” But that’s the whole point. These designs typically have only so many cards, so why waste 2 of them on things you know won’t occur once in a dozen games? And even if the incident did take place in history why make it so hard to use in your game that it won’t show up anyway? But just as important, weren’t there other interesting events with a higher historical probability that were left out of your system due to space limitations? Why exclude them in order to waste time talking about things you know won’t occur?

    On the other side of this coin is the prerequisite problem this approach generates: the first card you need to play in these games usually is useless in itself but if you waste time activating it, it may allow you to generate another event on another card that you may, or may not get, a couple of hours from now. Boooring!

    So even if the use of a prerequisite card is thought necessary it should at least be given enough power to accomplish something on its own.

    D. Designers would also be wise to differentiate the effects of each card. For example, some designs have cards describing various battlefield events that all produce the same results. Why? It’s like playing poker with a deck that contains 16 aces.

    Of course, the easiest way to differentiate events in a wargame is to increase their historicity.

  • Historicity: should help a game evoke an era’s ambiance while allowing players to produce the widest possible range of strategies.So it’s no coincidence those games that limit their historicity also limit their player’s choices. Washington’s War, for example, neither mentions Hessian mercenaries nor covers political damage beyond the placement or removal of PC markers. Except for moving the French Alliance marker there are no particular political, morale or propaganda dimensions to military actions or failures. There is a card that mentions the Waxhaws Massacre, but Banastre – the Butcher – Tarleton’s actions simply produces the removal of one American CU or the generation of a + 2DRM in battle just like numerous other cards. And the publication of “Common Sense” results only in the placing of 3 PC markers. While this approach speeds play, it does so at the expense of depth.
  • Power: the best designed Card Driven Games should produce random events powerful enough to affect play. Because, if your actions aren’t going to threaten your opponent, why bother doing them? For some reason, over-reliance on historical accuracy perhaps or sheer pedantry, low wattage events infest more CDG designs then we can name. This again misuses a great gaming resource.But the secret to Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (HRC) success is not these 5 rules, which it does follow, but a 6th:
  • Cascading: Exceptional Card Driven Games allow players to join events into ever more powerful combinations in order to advance specific strategies. In other words, their effects snowball. Let’s take a look at this most important principle in detail.

Cascading

Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage implements “Cascading” so seamlessly that the rules don’t even mention how players could enhance their position by linking events; it just flows from the system itself.

Consider the following example: You are playing HRC as the Roman Republic and have Longus as proconsul, with Flaminius and P. Scipio as Consuls. Lucky you! Your card events are Minor Campaign (which allows a full-strength army to move by sea), Messenger Intercepted (which gives you a card from your opponent’s hand), Diplomacy (which brings one city to your side), Senate Dismisses Proconsul (which allows you to pick a new proconsul), and the Numidian Ally event (which starts a revolt in Eastern Numidia).

What can you do?

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Well, there are a number of interesting possibilities here. Simply reading the cards will give you some ideas, which is fine. But how likely are they to work? If you revolt Eastern Numidia first, the Carthage player may move Hanno to one of your new PC (political control) markers and your revolt fails. Then again, you could launch a campaign to invade Africa right off, but Carthage has 6 local allies plus Hanno plus the Carthage garrison while you have no safe haven if you lose the battle. Naturally you can plan on not losing but “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” You could use your diplomats to take control of an African port before you invade, but the Carthaginian player might respond by moving Hanno there, as his special ability is removing PC markers in the last space he enters. So once he stops at your port you are back to having no political influence in Africa.

Basically, Rome’s problem is that though some of its events might seem intrinsically more powerful than others, after they are played, it’s the Carthaginian’s turn and he can “unplay” them. For instance, when Rome revolts a typical province, Carthage normally responds by filling the political vacuum thus created with PC markers. And all that the Old Republic has accomplished is to have both sides use one of their cards to no discernable effect. But, on the other hand, if Carthage had no possibility of responding, critics would rightly call the game unbalanced. While problems of this kind often appear in “Igo – yugo” game systems, how well they are handled goes a long way in determining how long a game will remain popular.

In HRC, for instance, while both players are free to play events as they wish throughout a turn, whoever wins the secondary struggle to create an end-of-turn advantage could also produce a super-event.

To begin with, players maneuver to play the last card in a turn. That is, if they let their adversary go first, they go last. So if they give up the near term advantage of going first, they create a long term advantage of having a card in their corner that can be played without a response. Of course, this isn’t always possible. But it occurs. Second, unless it’s absolutely necessary good players do not use interrupt cards, as they affect their end-of-turn situation. Third, they don’t always respond to an opponent’s interrupt card with one of their own as that will cancel a “last card” in their favor. Fourth, they activate the Phillip V of Macedon event when it benefits them, as it forces Rome to lose a card the first time it’s played and Carthage to lose a card the second time it is played. And, fifth, whenever possible, they initiate the Messenger Intercepted event, which gives them 2 more end-of-turn cards.

So, what’s possible?

Well, if we planned our move from the beginning, we could have used the Senate Dismisses Proconsul card early to get Nero on board. Then if we were fortunate enough to produce, say, a 3 card end-of-turn advantage, we might use it to revolt Eastern Numidia by playing the Numidian Ally card, use our Diplomacy card to convert the port of Saldae to our side, which puts our new Roman African province in supply and with a third activation we could move Nero’s army to the African port of Icosium, in Western Numidia, and have him drop off a CU before using his special ability to move 3 more spaces inland to defend Eastern Numidia. With a fourth card, if we were lucky enough to have generated one, we could convert Icosium, which we just garrisoned. As this puts Western Numidia out of supply, Carthage loses a second province at the end of the turn. It takes luck, yes. And it’s risky, yes. But it’s do-able.

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Of course, we could play in a more conservative style and invade Spain (Hispania) instead, either in the far west province of Baetica or in the eastern province of Idubeda. And, obviously, there are many other card combinations that work fine during a turn but can potentially generate an end-of-turn avalanche if we saved them for such an occasion. For example, if we had the Epidemic card, Elephant Fright and Ally Deserts cards, it might pay to attack Hannibal himself. If we had Celtiberia Revolts, Spanish Allies Desert and a Campaign card it may suggest a move into Spain either during a turn or all at once at its end.

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The point is not which of these plans is best, the point is they are all possible and they all produce secondary problems for players to struggle over. And it’s exactly this depth-of-play that makes Hannibal Rome vs. Carthage the finest Card Driven Game ever published.