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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.

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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 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.