We had been wanting to play this French import wargame, Orages a L’Est, for a while, so we finally cracked it open, popped out the counters (well, used a knife to cut out the counters), and set up the Turda 1944 game. Orages a L’Est actually has two games set in 1944, Turda, featuring a joint German-Hungarian counterattack against the Soviets and the Romanians near that town in Transylvania, and Tali-Ihantala in Finland. I picked Turda because it had a flat, featureless map, and, how many times can you say 1944 joint German-Hungarian counterattack?
“The Battle of Bannockburn (Blàr Allt a’ Bhonnaich in “Scottish Gaelic”) (24 June 1314) was …. one of the most decisive battles of the First War of Scottish Independence, and remains one of the iconic cornerstones in the History of Scotland….
Edward (II of England) came to Scotland in the high summer of 1314 with the preliminary aim of relieving Stirling Castle: the real purpose, of course, was to find and destroy the Scottish army in the field, and thus end the war. England, for once, was largely united in this ambition, although some of Edward’sgreatest magnates and former enemies, headed by his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, did not attend in person, sending the minimum number of troops they were required to by feudal law. Continue reading “Bannockburn 1314 – A Board Game Review”→
Sometime in the early 1990’s, after completing a grueling campaign game of Advanced Third Reich I said to myself, “OK, I’m done with World War II European Theater games”. Not that they weren’t a lot of fun to play, but between The Russian Campaign, Battle of the Bulge and the various incarnations of Third Reich, I had burnt myself out on the period. So when I was given the opportunity to play Blocks in the East (BITE), designed by Emanuele Santandrea and published by Vento Nuovo Games, it had been quite a while since I had parked myself in front of a grand operational scale “Big War” (WWII) type of game. And I was actually looking forward to it. Continue reading “Blocks in the East: Review”→
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.
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
Produce hits 3 out of 6 attempts, flee 0 times out of 6 and 3 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
Produce hits 3 out of 6 attempts, flee 1 time out of 6 and 2 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
The British regulars flee less and generate more Command Decisions than their American counterpart
Produce 2 hits out of 6 attempts, flee 2 out of 6 times and 2 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
Produce 2 hits out of 6 attempts, flee 2 out of 6 times and 2 out of 6 times generate Command Decisions
American and Canadian Militia are equivalent in combat
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Andean Abyss is the forthcoming game in GMT’s new COIN [Counterinsurgency] series. Designed by Volko Ruhnke, Andean Abyss is a one-to-four player game simulating the political, military and economic struggle for the control of Colombia in the mid 1990’s. The game represents that era of Colombian history just after the Cali cartel was smashed. During this period the Government was attempting to stabilize the country, while the various guerrilla factions were rushing in to take advantage of the vacuum. Players control one of four factions: the Government of Colombia; the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo), known as FARC; the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), known as AUC; and the Colombian drug Cartels. Each faction has its own powers and victory conditions. Continue reading “Andean Abyss: Board Game Preview”→
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Historical Orders of Battle
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:
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
Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren
Including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Charles Griffin, John C. Robinson, Samuel W. Crawford, and James S. Wadsworth
Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick
Including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Horatio G. Wright, George W. Getty, and James B. Ricketts
Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside
Including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Thomas G. Stevenson, Robert B. Potter, Orlando B. Willcox, and Edward Ferrero
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:
Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
Including the divisions of Maj. Gen. Charles W. Field and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw
Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell
Including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Jubal A. Early, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes
Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill
Including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and Cadmus M. Wilcox
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart
Including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee
The Aegean Strike Player Aid sheets provide a convenient location for tracking of the following important Aegean Strike information:
Special Forces – Warsaw Pact – There are 30 Spetsnaz detachments to keep track of (for 30 full game turns), which is a considerable part of the force management the Soviet Player must perform. There are two sheets used to manage these detachments. Both are identical except that the first sheet tracks game turns 1 through 15 and the second sheet tracks turns 16 through 30. Space is provide to record the mission and, if required, the location of each detachment for each turn. For example, to indicate that 3 detachments are on a “Raid” mission in hex 1316, starting with turn 6, simply enter “A-1316” in the boxes next to the “1”, “2”, and “3” rows under the “GT6” column.
Special Forces – NATO – Space is provided for up to 30 Game Turns of missions for all 9 Detachments of the U.S. 2/75 Special Forces Group unit. The coding is the same as for the Soviet Spetsnaz detachments.
Missile Depletion and Replenishment – For the U.S. CV-69 Carrier and Battleship, this sheet allows you to “X” off ASM fires as they are used. Same for the Soviet CGH and CVH units. Boxes are also provided for tracking the maximum ASM missile replenishments allowed to Naples for the U.S., and Odessa, Sevastopol, and Fedosiya for the USSR.
Naval Movement Determination – Each Action Stage (i.e. 3 times per Game Turn) the U.S. and Soviet players must roll dice to determine how many naval units may be activated that Action Stage. This section allows users to record the number of allowable moves each Turn/Action Stage.
Designer Responses to Battle for Baghdad Rules Questions
Responses by MCS Group
Questions by Harvey Mossman and Mark D.
Q: What are the Political Point Values of the Zones used for? They are mentioned in the rules in passing but nowhere in the rules or Example of Play are we told what their use is.
A: This is the number of points you place in a zone when an Arab Street card calls for it.
Q: Can a player play his Collateral Damage card to affect a battle he is not involved in? The card wording just says play “after a battle” but does not specify that you must be a participant in the battle to play it.
Q: If I play the “Oil Ministry” card, which requires each player to pay me 2 Political Points, can I immediately play an InfoWar card that doubles income from any “source” to increase my income to 4 Political Points per player?
A: Yes, but the extra PP are drawn from the bank. You get double the points, but your opponents would not pay double the price.
Q: Another question involving InfoWar cards that double income – Can I play two of them back to back and quadruple my income? Here’s a specific example that occurred in our game tonight:
1. U.S. player wins a battle, killing 17 Shiite units for a total of 17 Political Points earned.
2. U.S. player plays an InfoWar card which doubles income; collects another 17 Political Points.
3. U.S. player plays a second InfoWar card which doubles income; collects 34 more Political Points.
Total Political Points Won by U.S. Player: 68
Is this correct? Can you play two of these in a row? If yes, should the second card have netted him 34 additional points or only 17?
A: That sounds like the US crushed the entire Sadr army in an epic battle, and had CNN and Al-Jazeera to sing its praises. Yes, there is a Santa Claus, and you were given Baghdad for Christmas.
Q: If Initiative is won by means of the “Surge/Jihad” card, what is the cost for an Arms Bazaar Card on that turn? Would it be 1 Political Point? Or would it be the highest bid that was made before the “Surge/Jihad” card was played?
A: The relevant rules read: “The player may also purchase the top card from the Arms Bazaar deck at a cost in Political Points equal to the number of Political Points bid by the winning player for Initiative. If no players bid for Initiative, then the cost per card is one Political Point.” Thus, one Political Point, because the player who won Initiative paid zero (first paragraph), and the cost is one PP when the winner pays zero (second paragraph).
Q: Is the following sequence of events allowable?
a. Player plays InfoWar card to double political points for winning a battle.
b. Player then immediately plays “Back Alley Deal” card to retrieve the InfoWar card just played.
c. Player than immediately plays the InfoWar card again to double points again.
A: “a” and “b” are legal plays. “c” is not. As soon as the Back Alley Deal card is played, the link between the battle and further card play, like the recovered InfoWar card, is lost. The Back Alley Deal is a new “effect stream”, and only one effect stream can exist at a time. The existence of one effect stream permanently breaks players’ abilities to interact with all previous effect streams. If a Command Control was played by another player to cancel the Back Alley Deal, then that effect stream would not exist, and players could then interface with the previous effect stream at the end of the battle.
Q: Spawning rules – does “uncontrolled” really mean “non-enemy controlled”? We had a situation where the Jihadi player spawned an Infrastructure unit in the University zone while it was completely empty (and hence, uncontrolled). On the following turn, it was technically no longer “uncontrolled” because Jihadi himself controlled it. Is he still allowed to spawn new units there?
A: A Faction can spawn forces in the following Zones: * Infrastructure in any Zone the Faction Controls that contains the Faction’s Security forces. * Security in any Zone the Faction Controls that contains the Faction’s Infrastructure forces. * Any Zone and conditions explicitly described on the Factions screen. So, yes, the Jihadi player could Spawn Security forces in the University Zone on the following turn. If some of the Security forces remain, the Jihadi player could spawn additional Infrastructure on subsequent turns.
Strange Bedfellows – Sunni/Shiite Cooperation in Battle for Baghdad
For both the Sunni and Shiite players in MCS Group’s Battle for Baghdad strategy board game, survival is a minute by minute struggle. Faced with an aggressive U.S. player, both had better be ready to bury the hatchet (somewhere other than in each other’s head) if they are to have a chance at victory. This article discusses a cooperative technique that can be employed by the Sunni and Shiite players, acting in concert, to inflict maximum irritation on the U.S. player while increasing their own chances of survival… and victory.
Part of the Victory Condition requirements for both Sunni and Shiite players is to have at least one Infrastructure unit in an Iraqi National Government (ING) Affiliated Zone. With that in mind, let’s turn to our hypothetical situation. The US player has been wrestling with Al Qaeda in the southern areas of Baghdad and has therefore been unable (or unwilling) to respond to the considerable buildup of Shiite units in Shaab and Hurriyah zones. The Sunni and Shiite players have been having intense, secret discussions during the “Coalition” phase of each turn so, when the Sunni player moves into Baghdad Central, the US player assumes this to be part of an encircling move against the ING Ministries zone.
The ING currently has its hands full trying to maintain control of the Presidential Palace North zone, near Baghdad International Airport, and the Rasheed Int’l Airport zone in southeast Baghdad, both of which are still under ING control, but lightly defended. Seeing that the ING is in no position to withstand a coordinated Sunni/Shiite assault, the US and ING players have decided to allow the US to assume responsibility for defending the ING Ministries zone. Coordinated moves between the US and ING leave a strong US force controlling the Ministries zone, and the ING force has choppered back to the Presidential Palace North zone to avoid conflict with the US (remember that if the US and ING share a common zone at the start of the Combat Phase, they must fight).
The next turn begins with forces arrayed as in Figure 1, above.
Although I’m about to present a series of game actions that absolutely could take place in Battle for Baghdad, I want to point out that I’m only presenting one of an almost limitless range of possible sequences. I find this to be one of the most compelling and interesting aspects of the game. The sequence that I will present is only possible if the following three conditions are all true:
The Sunni or Shiite player gains the Initiative, which will allow them to determine who moves first.
The player seating order, going counter-clockwise, puts the US player after the Sunni, but before the Shiite.
The Sunni player is in possession of either the Terror Spectacular card or the WMD Arms Bazaar card.
Once all the pieces are in place, the Sunni and Shiite players put the plan into action.
The heart of the Sunni/Shiite cooperative plan is the agreement that they will not attack each other’s units, and that they will make a major push to clear ING zones of any US or Iraqi National Gov’t units, thereby clearing the way for one of them (or both of them) to soon be able to declare victory by occupying the required number of zones plus one ING zone.
During the Move Step of the Sunni Player’s Action Phase, he makes one move: a single Security unit moves directly into the American occupied Ministries Zone.
A single Sunni unit moving into the heavily defended Ministries Zone should immediately start setting off alarm bells in the American ranks (see Figure 3). They’ll immediately suspect the Sunni player is holding either the WMD or Terror Spectacular cards.
The objective is to either force the US units to abandon the Ministries Zone during their Move Step, or allow them to stand and die there. The American player may suspect that the Sunnis are bluffing, but that’s a hell of a chance to take. If they’re wrong (and we know they are), the end result will be the destruction of eight powerful US Security Units and a reward of 16 Political Points for the Sunnis (since destroying US Units nets the victor double the political points). Since the US player moves before the Shiite player, he’ll have no knowledge of what Shiite plans are.
The Shiite plan is to move his large force of Security units south to the ING Rashid Int’l Airport zone, thus providing a second simultaneous attack on the ING zones critical for victory to both Sunni and Shiite players. But this movement will not take place until after the US player moves. (see figure 4)
What are the US player’s options?
A) Helicopter the hell out of there, possibly back to the Airport or Green Zone – At first glance, the safest option. But keep in mind that abandoning an ING zone to either the Shiite or Sunni player can cost him the game in short order. And what if, he wonders, the Sunni is bluffing and does not actually have the WMD or Terror Spectacular card? He’d feel awfully stupid getting bluffed out of a key position like that. On the positive side, with his US units out of the way, he gets to watch the Sunni/Shiite “allies” turn ugly and tear each other to pieces. (figure 5)
B) Move aggressively into adjacent, enemy occupied zone – Determined to make the Sunni player pay in blood for the attack, the US player may choose to move into the Sunni affiliated Azamiyah zone. A wise US player will also leave one unit behind in the Ministries zone, so as to insure that the Sunni must play the WMD or Terror Spectacular card in order to guarantee the zone will be cleared of US units. Don’t want to just give that zone up without a fight! (figure 6)
C) Call the bluff and sit tight in the zone – Hope that the Sunni is bluffing and does not actually possess the WMD or Terror Spectacular card. A bold move requiring nerves of steel… and the move the Sunni is desperately hoping for. (figure 7)
If the US player chooses option “A”, the turn will most likely end with Sunnis and Shiites in control of two out of three Iraqi National Gov’t Affiliated Zones. If the Terror Spectacular/WMD card is actually played, the Shiites will control one ING zone and another will be completed vacated due to the major terrorist attack. Not a good outcome for any of the other players since it may put both Sunni and Shiite uncomfortably close to their victory conditions.
If option “C” is chosen, not only will the outcome be much the same as option “A” results, but the US will have sustained large casualties from the WMD or Terror Spectacular attack, filling Sunni coffers with Political Points to boot.
So, we’ll have to assume that the US player will choose option “B”. And let’s further assume a truly aggressive US player. He sends three Security units into Azamiyah to attempt to take out the Sunnis there. Four additional US Security units are sent into Shaab to punish the Shiites. And one US Security unit is left in Ministries so that the zone is not given up totally without a fight. (As a matter of fact, it will be quite difficult for the Sunni player to win this battle without use of the WMD card due to the fact that US Security units count double in combat and due to the superiority of the US Command Cards)
Following the US moves, the Shiite player decides to stick with the plan and moves all available Security units south to Rasheed Int’l Airport. (see figure 8 for final dispositions after movement)
Moving into the Combat Phase, let’s assume that the US player defeats the Shiite player handily in Shaab, and that the Shiite player is able to overwhelm the lightly defender Rasheed Int’l Airport zone and assume control there. I believe it would be best for the Sunni player to shift play of the WMD/Terror Spectacular card to Azimiyah, thereby eliminating 3 US units and, more importantly, picking up 6+ Political Points (2 each for the US Security Units destroyed + the value of the US Command Card played, if any). Even though all Sunni units are destroyed in the attack, the Political Point reward will more than pay for replacements.
At turn’s end, we find the US player still in control of the ING Ministries zone, having defeated the single Sunni unit there, and now in control of the Shiite affiliated Shaab zone. The Sunni affiliated Azamiyah zone has been completely cleared by the WMD/Terror Spectacular event. Finally, the Shiite player is now in control of the ING Rasheed Int’l Airport zone, after having lost 3 units fighting the ING defenders there.
On the surface it may appear that the US player is the big winner, since the US still has 5 units remaining of the original 8, while the Sunni player has lost 5 units and the Shiite player has lost 6 units.
The counterpoint can be made, however, that the US player was not in control this turn, but simply reacting to enemy actions. The turn ended with the Sunni player accumulating enough victory points to rebuild his losses and then some, and the Shiite player in control of a critical Victory requirement zone (Rasheed Int’l Airport). The following turn will once again find the US player simply reacting to events as he attempts to recapture Rasheed Int’l Airport and reinforce Ministries before someone else attacks the lightly defended zone.
It’s true that in Battle for Baghdad the US is not often defeated on the battlefield. But, as a North Vietnamese Colonel once said, it is also irrelevant. Cooperative play, not just between Sunni and Shiite, is essential to counter an aggressive US player.
The sequence of events described in this article is just one of a myriad of possibilities that may occur in an actual game. The turn might have proceeded in an entirely different direction if:
The players were seated in a different order.
The Sunni player did not draw the critical WMD or Terror Spectacular card.
The US player withdrew from Ministries to Rasheed Int’l Airport, thereby denying that zone as a target for the Shiite player.
The Shiite player decided to double-cross the Sunni player and moved units into Azamiyah to attack the Sunni units there.
The replay value of Battle for Baghdad is likely the most outstanding aspect of the game. Although I have touched upon the game’s variability in this article, you must play a full game to truly comprehend it. The allowance of shared victories (i.e. more than one player can possibly meet their victory conditions in the same turn) will absolutely make for “strange bedfellows” from time to time. There are no “standard” moves or alliances that work all the time… or fail all the time… and that variety is what keeps me interested in playing.
Opinions heard ’round the table: Battle for Baghdad
We’ve been giving this game quite a workout out here on Long Island in NY. Most opinions are generally positive, but not all. Each quote block, below, is an (anonymous) comment heard around the gaming tables. I thought that gamers looking for information about this game might find this useful even though it is not a formal or organized review.
Each player has to buy more Arms Bazaar cards in the beginning to insure they possess the offensive and defensive cards to protect their command cards and hopefully neutralize the enemy command cards before fighting a crucial battle. Also, by collecting more Arms Bazaar cards someone is more likely to have the Collateral Damage card and the other event cards that can negate the play of a particular offense and defense card. This puts the US player in a bind because he can’t afford to buy back his nuetralized Command Cards as they will simply cost too much. It also puts the other factions in a bind because they can’t guarantee they will win a particular battle!That’s why I think we should play it more and see how we can develop various strategies. I suspect that the game is not imbalanced once we discover all the subtleties of the system.
I think it’s too chaotic to be a good game. By that I mean that I think the game is too influenced by the cards you draw and there’s too much of a luck element. What it looks like to me is that they created the very nice map and sent it off to the printer, then created the very nice cards and sent them off to be printed, and finally started working on a set of rules to tie the whole thing together but ran out of money and/or time before they could finish the job. So you’ve got some strategic elements–occupying areas and then building infrastructure to allow you to build up security–but you don’t really have the time to do any of that. It matters more what cards you draw than what moves you make.The combat system is interesting but I think the command cards are too powerful vis a vis the forces involved and getting your command card knocked out by an attack card is too devastating and too random (since it’s based on what cards you’re able to play).
The game seems to want to be a beer & pretzels type game but also wants to have some simulation elements and I think it would have done better to just go for the b&p.
Actually, I think the chaos in the game is about right for Baghdad. I believe the combat system would work if players had the patience to develop a hand of appropriately powerful cards before rushing in to combat. We really didn’t even get down to half of the Arms Bazaar deck!There are many cards that can negate a perfect attack and defense card combo. I also think that each faction has to adopt different strategies and be as subtle as possible so their strategy is not obvious to the other players. We tend to stress the combat aspect too much and don’t utilize the politics of the game as much as we should.
For example, I realized playing the US that your only real asset is the proficiency of your forces. I could occupy areas and actually try for the standard win (120 total Political Points, with each controlled zone counting as 10 points, plus the sum of the Political Point markers held) if I could hold 8 or 9 areas. In doing that I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally separate the Sunnis and the Shities, which would trigger a victory for the Iraqi Government player. I also had to try to grab 40 or so Political Points. Attacking a nice big juicy group of Sunnis or Shiites is a great way for me to gain Political Points. So the other players should try not to form big stacks. Or they should wait to get the Collateral Damage card and then use that against the USA (causing all Political Points won in the battle to be transferred to the loser instead of the winner).
I really think each player has to find his own strategy to victory. I also have begun to realize just how important the Arms Bazaar cards are. They are probably more important than any onboard maneuvering until you make your move to win. Players have to patiently build a hand that is useful to their strategy. You also have to manipulate the cost of the cards with astute Initiative bids to lock out the players poor in Political Points so they can’t afford to buy Arms Bazaar cards. Also going first or second to get an early pick of the Arms Bazaar cards and also know what’s out there for the other players to select can be important.I still don’t think we have figured out all the possible strategies for each player and I doubt whether a given “go to” strategy is even possible for each player because of the richness of possible player interactions and the variety of possible card interactions.
I really think this game has amazing variety which really leaves it open to a multitude of potential strategies. It also means it’s replay value is very high. Having said all of that, I feel we still have only scratched the surface!
It may be true that the game would be different if we played it out to the bottom of the Arab Street deck but I don’t know if that’s likely to ever happen. I think that would require some stability in the positions on the board, with players mostly building up their strength and expanding into open areas. But once a big battle or two takes place or someone decides to try for the win, the situation becomes destabilized and people will start attacking each other. Then, all strategy & tactics disappear. They’ll either be trying to stop the leader or jumping on someone who has become overextended or weakened. Someone will always be threatening to win.One of the problems with the game is the combat system, which has some good ideas in it but which I don’t think works very well. The main question in any combat is: how many units do you commit to the battle? That sounds like a very interesting question with a lot of ramifications but it’s actually simple enough to reduce to a formula: n + x = y + z + 1 where n is the number of units you commit, x is the value of your Command card, and y and z are the number of units and the value of the Command card your opponent commits. So on the one hand, this is a really simple decision, but on the other it’s impossible since the values for x, y, and z are completely unknowable! You don’t even know the value of your own Command card since it could get neutralized. So it’s at the same time simplistic, but there are so many possibilities that it amounts to a wild guess.
And so having the loser discard his played Arms Bazaar cards while the winner retains his seems unduly harsh. Losing a battle can be devastating but since it’s more luck dependent than skill dependent the consequences can seem unfair. I think I’d rather see the Command cards be harder to neutralize, have both players discard the Arms Bazaar cards they use, and have them retain at least some of their units after the battle.
Get to know the Arms Bazaar card deck very quickly and very well. I would have played things much differently had I known there was a card that could nullify my victory (i.e. the Global Media card).Ignorance of the Arms Bazaar deck is no excuse.
I agree that this is not a game for perfect intelligence and optimal combat tactics. However it is realistic and does provide for some tense, difficult decisions in a battle. The possibility of getting your Command card neutralized must be weighed with the potential benefits of a victory ( in game terms this probably means garnering Political Points). Thus there is a real risk to participating in combat and the potential for reduced fighting abilities in the future. Therefore combat should not be entered into lightly. Also, one must “prepare” the battlefield by making sure he has strong offensive and defensive supporting Arms Bazaar cards to play in combat before the decision is made to have a battle.In all, I think this system is much more clever than a system of adding up combat factors and rolling a die on a combat results table. Both methods have randomness to them but I think this system requires more planning and provides more tension and fog of war.
While the Arms Bazaar cards are important, they are also pretty random. In a recent game, I moved last almost every turn and so never really got a choice of what Arms Bazaar card I was going to get. I was just handed the last card each turn and that was it. Despite that, I somehow wound up with an almost pat hand of offense/defense cards! I had two different cards of each type along with a fifth useful card for most of the game. This wasn’t skill on my part, it was just lucky card drawing and I don’t think it’s a surprise that the two winners of the game had the best combat cards.Despite having good cards, I still needed luck to win battles. One of my defense cards blocked Terrorist Attacks & Raids while the other blocked Precision Munitions. So any battle would come down to a 50-50 chance of my choosing the correct defense card for what my opponent was using against me. Since if I lost the battle the cards would also be gone, that would really damage my future combat strength if I made a bad random choice of defense cards.
The most interesting game I’ve played in a long time! Congratulations to MCS Group for dreaming up this gem! I’ve played the game six times so far, utilizing 4, 5 and 6 players, and every game has been completely different than all the rest. Lots of replay value.
My bigger gripe about the game is not the victory conditions, but more the card mechanics. For a CDG I think the deck design is very poorly put together. The Battle Cards are a random mix of offenses, defenses, special effects, some battle related, some not, and, I don’t know what. Combine that with the need to buy cards and I think the system is way out of kilter. Without Political Points to buy cards you are all but certain to not have enough ooomph to win any conflict, and that means no way to obtain new Political Points. Admittedly I had the low faction on the totem pole (The Jihadi), but I saw it with others to some extent as well. On the other end of the spectrum, once you can collect a decent amount of Political Points, you can keep buying cards, discarding the cards you don’t want or need, until you have a tailor made hand. So at the two ends you have players with almost no new card drawing ability each turn, hoping that the luck of the draw gives them a good card with their one free draw versus players that can buy 10 cards at a pop, dumping the dross and ending up with a tailor made hand. Not much fun there. And I am at somewhat of a loss how the ability to buy cards is tied to victory points.