Tag: Civil war

The Guns of Gettysburg – A Boardgaming Life Review

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By Michael Stultz

Designer: Bowens Simmons

Publisher: Mercury Games

Confederate forces invaded the United States of America in the summer of 1863 during the waning days of June. Just two months prior at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Lee’s army had defeated the Army of the Potomac, one of several defeats inflicted on the Union. Lee reasoned that now was the time for a bold strike that might win the war for the South, or at least, procure necessary victuals and potentially gain the recognition and support of one or both of France and England. The Confederate rank and file were confident and self-assured as they struck north in the waning days of June 1863. It was the high-tide for General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. The aim was simple: requisition supplies and disrupt Union invasion plans. Lee’s army desperately needed this in the face of an increasingly critical scarcity of food and basic material; and strategically, taking the war onto Northern soil would put the Confederates on the offensive outside their own territory. So, march they did. In the first three days of July, a momentous battle was fought where no one had planned to engage, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In those three days, two armies and two nations collided in violent combat. And in those three days, one nation died, another triumphed.

That’s the history. And if you want to replay history using scripted movements and positions, playing across a hexagonal grid, you will not likely enjoy Guns of Gettysburg, designed by Bowen Simmons and published by Mercury Games. But if you are looking for a unique design that takes you into the action of those three days, this is a candidate well deserving of your time.

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Glory III – After Action Report

by Tom Thornsen

Designer:  Richard Berg

Publisher: GMT Games

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“Awesome Bob” and I have both had this game in our collections for some time and finally decided to break open the box and try the system.  I have played Richard Berg’s “Triumph and Glory” system for several years for Napoleonic warfare and this looks to be a simpler version of it directed to the US Civil War.  This is the third game set in the series, so we figure that the bugs have been worked out by now.  The rules certainly seem simple enough, so we could get right down to action.  We spent a couple of meetings playing the other game in the box on the battle of “Cedar Creek” just to get our mechanics worked out.

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The US Civil War-A BoardgamingLife Review

GMT1506Author: Harvey Mossman

Designer: Mark Simonitch

Publisher: GMT games

The American Civil War remains one of the most climactic events in American history and still scars the national psyche. Whereas many other conflicts involving the United States wax and wane in interest, it is safe to say that publishing a game on this topic is usually a “sure bet” with the war gaming public.

As such, The Civil War by Victory Games, at least to my mind, was the epitome of strategic Civil War games and was a derivative of an older Strategy & Tactics magazine game called The American Civil War (also an excellent game but limited by the magazine format) so it was with baited breath that I anticipated the release of GMT’s the US Civil War. I was not disappointed!

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A Minié View of Huzzah! – A Boardgaming Life Review


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By Paul Comben

Designer Richard Dengel

Publisher One Small Step

Be honest, how many strictly tactical level ACW games could you name…apart from this one, that is? Actually, I rather suspect readers could name close to all of them – which is another way of saying that there have never been all that many. I recall Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, to which I could probably add Baton Rouge, MacPherson’s Ridge, Gettysburg: The Wheatfield, and Battles and Leaders. There may be a few others, but we have never been exactly deluged with tactical recreations of Civil War mischief. And therefore, that a new company wants to devote some serious attention to this sort of subject matter, and that the intention is to feature some lesser known and smaller Civil War battles as well as key portions of the big fights, is something to offer a welcome to.

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Gettysburg’s Gettysburgs: A Boardgaming Life Review

By Paul Comben


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Let’s face it, some of us have had more than forty years of marching down the Chambersburg Pike, and we have all done it with great games, fair games…and the occasional piece of absolute rot. We have sought to take the high ground, defend the high ground, move around the high ground (if the map would let us), and fight out the great turning point of the Civil War with systems as variable as the holiday road works on the English M6.

How many Gettysburg games have there been since the late Fifties? God knows. What I am more certain of, however, is that plenty of us have played plenty of them; and like London buses, if you missed the last one, there will be another along in a minute – even if it is going somewhere you would rather not.  I cannot think of London without the buses, and I cannot think of the hobby without the Gettysburg games. So here is a run through of all the Gettysburg titles I have ever played; a celebration of a lifetime spent rolling the dice, losing Lee under something, and not understanding what any given rule actually meant.

And with that, I start in 1972… with something from 1964.

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All Around the Block: A Look at the Utterly Unique Designs of Rachel Simmons – A Boardgaming Life Review

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 By Paul Comben

It is far from unusual within the broad church of board wargaming to find designs based upon the use of wooden blocks. Columbia has dedicated itself to this approach for decades; and recently, alongside the occasional contribution from the likes of GMT, we have had the stunning visual effects of the VentoNuovo “Blocks” series – though, for my taste, the colour has run a little too extravagantly in the case of those designs. And then there are all those C&C offerings; but while there is an awful lot of timber included, they are not really part of this family in any real sense – they may walk the walk just a bit, but when they talk, it is another entirely separate language they go battling off into.

Whatever their subject matter, games that do belong to what we usually associate with the wooden block approach tend to share a range of common mechanisms – each block’s informational sticker gets rotated to show losses; there is often a measure of quality (usually a letter) to show who gets to fight first; and there is a number to indicate how many dice are tossed into the maelstrom of combat. Of course, some games are markedly more complex than others, but there has certainly been a carry-over of mechanical approach, and why not, when it has worked so well for a markedly long time.

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But where does the work of Rachel (formerly Bowen) Simmons fit into the scheme of things? In her three games, Bonaparte at Marengo, Napoleon’s Triumph and The Guns of Gettysburg, yes, there are indeed blocks, and there are representative values of strength on one side of these blocks only; and like not a few other members of the family, the maps are divided into areas – but in this case it all adds up to a very different way of working, predicated on an entirely different ethos. For a start, whereas the vast majority of other block games will have you rolling multiples of dice at every turn, there are no dice in any of Simmons’ designs. Random chance, in terms of rolling your way to victory or defeat, does not exist in these three battle worlds – chance comes solely in the form of what the players do and what they think their opponents are doing…essentially, in the worst cases, being fooled, being foolish, or fooling yourself. What these games are not is an intense look at tactical evolutions on early to mid-Nineteenth Century battlefields. You are not forming square or sending the skirmishers out; those things may be considered within the system as “assumed.” What you are doing is deploying force, threatening the use of force, hoping to bluff your opponent into committing to the wrong deployment, and then folding up his/her disjointed position like a wet piece of cardboard.

And, for the most part, it is utterly brilliant.

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Iron and Oak – A Boardgaming Life Review

Game Design by James M. Day


Review by Mitchell Freedman

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The box cover says Iron and Oak is a game of “ship-to ship combat during the American Civil War. “

The cover is far too modest. Its really a whole lot more.

Iron and Oak is a game of naval combat, with several  scenarios in the “brown water” rivers and bays where navigation can become a problem. So can the enemy forts that go on the edge of the map and can use plunging fire on the ships below.

Players might run into shoals and have to get their ship re-floated, or they could encounter mines or other obstructions, or powerful currents which can carry their ships where they don’t want to go. There are damage control parties, tables of critical hits, and – perhaps most important – die rolls which determine not only the results of combat, but whether a captain can move his ship at all.

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Dancing Through Raindrops – Design Philosopy and the Board Game “In Magnificent Style”

By Hermann Luttmann


Dancing Through Raindrops… and Musket Balls… and Cannon Balls…


In Magnificent Style is the first in the new Death or Glory! series of games from Victory Point Games depicting various famous “forlorn hope” attacks of history. This is my fourth published design for VPG and you may be wondering “How the heck did he manage to get four games published in less than a year?!” Well, honestly most of the credit goes to Alan Emrich’s guidance, along with the wonderful “noobie designer” support system that exists at Victory Point Games. The other factor is that I’ve really tried to find a niche area of game design by developing new “takes” on rather popular subjects. So, for example, one of my games is about Gettysburg, but involves only the fighting at the Wheatfield (a subject that has never been covered in detail) and uses a miniatures-based game system. Another game is a zombie game, but is solitaire and set at a more operational level than the normal skirmish level zombie games. The third is a baseball game which in no way resembles any other baseball game, thus avoiding the pitfalls of direct comparisons to Strat-O-Matic, etc. and making the game more accessible to younger players and the more casual baseball fan.

This latest publication, In Magnificent Style, also fits neatly into this game design template. It’s a game about arguably the single most infamous Civil War battle event – Pickett’s Charge – during the war’s most famous battle – Gettysburg – and yet is ironically one of the most un-gameable situations you can think of. Now this certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster, but not really. Understand – I play games primarily to enjoy the narrative, experience the thrills and revel in the excitement of encountering unexpected situations and attempting to deal with them. Gaming is my action movie, my exotic journey and my adventure novel. When I play, I want the game to take me for a joyride and as long as I have fun and my adrenaline is pumping, I don’t care about winning or losing. It’s all about the ride!

So I thought that I could take those feelings of tension, terror and pending calamity prevalent in these horrid doomed attacks of history and convert them into thrilling game narratives. On the surface, you’d think these battles would make boring games. But my thinking was that by placing the player in the position of the unnerved attacker and telling him to “push-his-luck” the best he can would inspire some great gaming moments. Essentially, the idea was to have the player play solitaire and be forced to constantly perform “against the odds”, evoking the emotions of a desperate gambler down to his last chip. Therefore what makes these near-suicidal frontal assaults entertaining is the desperation to survive. The system is designed to throw all sorts of chaos and disaster at you – what are you going to do about it?


In Magnificent Style actually began life as a World War I trench assault game. I switched to designing a more generic game system that could be used as the DNA for a core system and then massaged to fit other periods of history. While cobbling together a framework to accomplish these goals, I stumbled upon some unique and interactive mechanics. First of all, I harkened back to my childhood and pulled out of my memory banks a dice game called “Schwein” (or “Pig”) that my German grandmother taught me when I was young. By enhancing the dice mechanics of that game, I was able to construct a system that generates not only the unit’s move, but also vigorous enemy “activity”. This device also keeps the player constantly involved, as each roll generates a major decision point.

Added to this dice mechanic, the drawing of Event Chits containing both positive and negative events produces a multitude of more opportunities and more angst for the player. This all melds together into a cohesive system that gives the player the feeling of leading men forward through a hail of enemy fire, straining with each die roll to reach an improbable goal. Hopefully, this amalgamation of systems yields the right blend of chaos management, clever decision-making and plain dumb luck. The player must decide when to push his men forward through the storm and when to have them hunker down and try again next turn. But the additional problem is that there are only five turns in which to get this done and almost nowhere on the game board is a safe haven. There is a ton of dice-rolling and chit-pulling but this serves not only to keep the player actively involved in the game, but also assures a new experience every time it’s played.

Importantly, it should be noted that this game is not meant to be a detailed study of this or any other battle. It is a quick-playing “gambling” style game system that uses a historically-based theme to provide context. It is a game of entertainment first and a simulation second. However, one play tester (Paul Fish) did note that playing In Magnificent Style compelled him to further research Pickett’s Charge in more detail and that is certainly a constructive residual effect of the game’s experience.


So I hope that those of you who try this game will come away with a smile on your face and a feeling that you were on a perilous adventure for an hour or so. Lead your troops through the carnage, go once more into the breach and hopefully have fun doing so!