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David G. Cox Esq.
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The Battle of the Alma



Two-player simulation of the first major battle of the Crimean War.
Series 120 game
Designed by Frank Chadwick
Published by Game Designers Workshop (1978)



I have recently inherited a large number of older wargames and am taking this as an opportunity to fiddle around with some games that not only are currently difficult to obtain but are, in many cases, not the usual sort of games that find refuge in my games room.

One of these is GGW’s the Battle of the Alma. I have played several of the Series 120 games (games with 120 counters that can be played in less than 120 minutes) but have generally found the experience to be a disappointment – with Beda Fomm and Guilford Courthouse being two exceptions.

While writing this review I have been asking myself three questions about the game:-
1) Do I learn anything about the battle because of the game?
2) Is it fun to play?
3) How do you really simulate gross ineptitude at high level command?

Before addressing those questions, however, I will look at the physical components of the game and give a summary of the battle itself.



Physically the game is unimposing and typical of GDW games from the 70’s. There are 120 counters which are marginally thinner than those produced by SPI and Avalon Hill at this time. They are glossy and easy to read. The map measures 44 x 57 centimetres and has a white background with brown hills/slopes, red roads, black towns and blue river lines running through the hexes (not following the hex-sides). The map is rather bland and has set-up locations printed directly onto the map. Charts are printed on the back of the rule book. There is no turn record track so I made my own. There are a mere four pages of rules and two pages of historical notes.

The Battle of the Alma was the first major engagement of the Crimean War. A combined Anglo-French force was moving south towards Sevastopol. A Russian force on the southern bank of the Alma River was positioned to block this movement. Although outnumbered (60,000 to 33,000) the Russians had natural advantages due to the river and the steep banks on the southern side or the river. The Russians had virtually no troops on the western end of the river as they felt the sheerness of the cliffs would be sufficient to stop an enemy advance. The French plan was that they would scale the cliffs which would so unsettle the Russian defenders that they wouldn’t notice the British attack against their centre. The British were very slow preparing for the battle. The French had hoped to start at dawn but the British weren’t ready until about midday. The British Divisions were misaligned and as they advanced the different divisions merged and turned from serried ranks into a milling mob. It was a bizarre battle where little strong leadership was shown on either side. Telegraph Hill, in the centre of the Russian line, was left unoccupied. Lord Raglan, the British commander rode up the hill and decided to order some of his artillery to be moved there. The Russians knew he was there and could have captured him but no ranking office on the Russian side issued an order so the soldiers didn’t do anything about him. The British captured one of the redoubts. When counter-attacked by the Russians they were ordered not to fire on them as they were thought to be French. Towards the end of the battle a thin line of British soldiers advanced upon a large number of Russians. Due to the smoke and confusion the Russians assumed that they were outnumbered and consequently fell back.



How the Game Works
The game lasts for 10 turns, each representing 30 minutes of time.

Sequence of Play
The Allied Player moves first.
1. Movement Phase – unrouted units may move
2. Morale Recovery Phase – routed units attempt to rally – if they fail they move at full speed away from the battle
3. Charge Declaration Phase – cavalry and infantry MAY declare a charge against an adjacent enemy unit
4. Offensive Fire Phase – phasing units which DID NOT move may fire
5. Defensive Fire Phase – all defending artillery and defending infantry units which are being charged may fire
6. Melee Resolution Phase – charging units which have not been routed by defensive fire resolve the melee.
All units have a morale rating. There is a lot of dice rolling for morale – you roll to rally, if you suffer from being fired at you may have to do a morale check, if you are charging enemy units you have to check your morale. As divisions suffer losses there will be additional modifiers to morale die rolls.

What Have I Learnt?
Reading reports of the battle one gets an overwhelming sense of confusion. It is very difficult to accurately simulate organisation dysfunction and paralysis at senior command level. Lord Raglan was famous for his good manners and politeness. He felt that is was wrong for him to disagree with his French counterpart. Before the battle Raglan had a meeting with Arnaud – during the meeting he nodded and smiled at the French Commander’s suggestions even though he intended to work completely independently. I feel that the movement rules make it too easy to move units with some sort of coordinated master-plan as this is most certainly not typical of the battle itself.
In the battle soldiers did what seemed right at the time. French troops crossed the river in the west but did not advance as they had no artillery support – French doctrine at the time stated that infantry must wait for the artillery before advancing. The confusion and lack of coordination that was typical of the battle is simulated by the large number of morale die rolls that take place during the game. While this may lead to an accurate simulation I find it does not give me a satisfying feeling as a game player – I have little control over the battle and just watch what happens as the troops get into contact.
I find the victory conditions unsatisfactory – if the Allies exit five units off the southern road-edge of the map they win, regardless of their losses. Controlling terrain and inflicting losses is unimportant.
I don’t even like the fact that the hex grid runs east-west rather than north-south – I feel that the orientation of the grid reduces the opportunity for clever manoeuvring and just further contributes to the randomness of the combat results.

I don’t find the game fun and I don’t find it attractive.
If I am going to fight a battle I want a game to clearly define my role on the battlefield and I want my decisions to bear some semblance to the historical restrictions of the situation and I want to feel that my decisions will have some outcome on the final result, be it for better or worse.

In this game I don’t know who I am and it doesn’t really matter anyway – perhaps this is an excellent simulation of the battle.

Thank God I Wasn’t There!

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Graham Lockwood
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Thank God you weren't. I'd have to help you into your favourite gaming chair nowdays.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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NSW
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promuso wrote:
Thank God you weren't. I'd have to help you into your favourite gaming chair nowdays.


Nice micro-badges - they suit you.

 
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Graham Lockwood
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You should see Dans'.
Then again, you shouldn't.
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David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Port Macquarie
NSW
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Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
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promuso wrote:
You should see Dans'.
Then again, you shouldn't.


The obvious question: is your last microbadge a full-stop or is it a hole?

I apologize - you deserve better than this!!!

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Heath Avery
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hmmmm true
I do suggest the Crimean War quad version...whilst similar...it def works better !!!!
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john f stup
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it wasn't a bad game for its time. it did give a feel of what it was like to march in line against an enemy in prepared defenses. and if i remember correctly, it was balanced enough that it would likely come down to the last turn to decide the winner. an excellent review! especially for a game you didn't particularly like.
 
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Michael Wintz
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I've got this game too, along with SPI's Crimean War Quad, which includes Alma. Both of these games came out about the same time, and I was always surprised how the two games are so similar. Play one, and then play the other - and tell me if you can note any differences.
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Port Macquarie
NSW
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mwintz wrote:
I've got this game too, along with SPI's Crimean War Quad, which includes Alma. Both of these games came out about the same time, and I was always surprised how the two games are so similar. Play one, and then play the other - and tell me if you can note any differences.


My next review will be of the SPI game - and yes, there are strong differences despite some superficial similarities.
 
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Kim Meints
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I haven't played either in a very long time. I guess maybe David's review will correct that
 
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I love Melissa, but don't tell her. It's a secret if she can find this. Shhhhh....
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You make it sound like quite an interesting game. Although not a fun one!

Next!
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"How do you really simulate gross ineptitude at high level command?"

Let me play?
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Heath Avery
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If you knew Dave, youd understand
We keep him under lock and key here in OZ , and let him out only for calling his dances and to game every 3rd weekend
 
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Heath Avery
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The Battle of the Alma » Forums » Reviews
Re: It Should Never Have Been Fought – It Should Never Have Been Simulated
When we start our PBEM up again mate
We gotta try this one for the sake of checking it out
I dont like it solo It doesnt work as you so correctly say
 
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