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Subject: Little Round Top: Just What You'd Expect rss

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Sim Guy
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Introduction
In the movie Gettysburg, during the gallant defense of Little Round Top by the remnants of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, they resort to a desperate charge to finally drive away their exhausted Confederate attackers. I get chills when I see it. Despite their losses and the superiority of the Union position, those Alabama boys were NOT going to give up. Likewise, the men from Maine were determined to stand their ground, until their lack of ammunition forced their hand and caused them to do something so shocking that the spirit of the Alabamans was finally broken. Even allowing for some dramatic license on the part of the filmmaker, the facts of the event are essentially correct. It must have been something to see.

Who, among us wargamer types, hasn't gotten the urge to fight that one portion of the battle? Hmm, okay, you two guys can go on to some other review while I huddle with the rest of my buds...

My first exposure to this game was OSG's 20th Maine. The AH version changes very little, besides the name. No matter the form, the game does a pretty good job of putting either player in the proper mindset of the respective commanders of this pivotal episode in the greater battle – you get a long tough slog before you are forced to try something spectacular.

Images used are taken from the BGG game pages.

The Game

Little Round Top, by Avalon Hill, is a Company level treatment of the fight over the little hill that anchored the Union left. This is a straight up infantry slug-fest – so no worries about artillery barrages or cavalry charges here, just good old fashioned fire and melee. The literature on the box claims that the game rates a '4' on a 1-10 complexity scale, but I don't buy it; the rules are written at almost a miniatures level of detail and cover Leaders, Formations, Morale, Fatigue, Ammo Supply and of course Movement, Fire and Melee Combat. There's a lot in there, and minis players will wonder what all the fuss is about, while fans of Blue & Gray may be a bit overwhelmed. The rules, including three pages of charts and tables, are only 12 pages – but 12 pages of rules for a game with less than 50 combat units, played on a half-size map seem to me quite a lot. They are, however, well written and clear, although a little short on examples. An experienced player should be up and playing in 15-20 minutes, the first time out.

First impressions
This game was revised and released by AH in 1982, and looks pretty typical for the time. The counters are clear and functional, if a little bland. The mounted map is very nice by the standard of the day; colorful and big enough to allow the players some extra tactical latitude. There are less than 100 counters, not quite half being information markers, which I don't (ever) care for (so I didn't use many of them). Unusual for an AH game, the counters are matte, SPI style, as is the map, but it doesn't detract from the quality of the game. I would have liked some designer's notes or historical commentary – I don't really need any though, but a few purchasers may have wondered about the context.

The Map – You get an 11” x 17” map of the battle site, covering the southern, left flank, of the Union line that ended on Little Round Top with the 20th Maine. The hexes represent only about 20 yards, and depict the heavily wooded, rocky terrain of the hilltop. Elevation is set in 20 foot increments and the elevation levels are color coded, darker to lighter, as you rise. The ruggedness of the terrain is starkly apparent, as there is NO clear terrain to the front of the Union line – if the Confederate player actually reaches the clear terrain on the reverse slope, the Union player has been soundly defeated. A terrain effects chart, command point cost table, and turn record track make the actual playing area even smaller – this is a tiny game.

The Counters – The double-sided unit counters depict the individual companies of both sides involved, along with leaders and the regimental flags. The front side of the infantry companies represent a unit in good order, and shows initial combat strength, morale level, and unit designation, while the back represents the disorganized unit, with essentially the same information. Officer counters identify the particular officer and his unit, the number of command points he may allocate, and his command radius. If the officer becomes a casualty, the reverse side represents an unnamed replacement officer. Flag counters depict a good order color guard, or a captured flag. The numerous informational counters from my game are still on their cardboard sprue, as I made a copy of the unit roster sheet (which is provided) and kept track of the various units ammo and strength levels on it – I recommend the practice as the map hexes are barely large enough to handle the unit counters by themselves.

Rules
As Mentioned above, the rule book is only 12 pages long, effectively only 9 pages of actual rules, but they are quite detailed. The rules are clear and organized, but lengthy, considering we're only dealing with an infantry clash. To look at it another way: if you had a rule book for a game that devoted a full 9 pages to infantry action and combat, you might think that a bit excessive. A full size game of the Battle of Gettysburg written at such a level of detail would be more denser than Terrible Swift Sword. Still, if you are a tactical gamer used to such detail, or a minis gamer, you'll be fine. Less experienced gamers will have a tougher time.

Mechanics
At the Company level, measuring only 20 yards to the hex, and six minute long turns, small actions make a big difference, and the necessity of detail in the rules slowly becomes apparent. The rules are IGO-UGO, starting with the Union player and alternating through the game. Commanders have a number of command points which they allocate for unit actions, almost all of which cost something to perform. Units are moved based upon their Formation (Line or Column) and the number of command points expended on their behalf. Fire and Melee combat results in strength point losses, disorganization, and retreat to varying degrees. Fatigue is tracked and accumulated through actions and combat, and affects the severity of combat results. The ever important ammo supply is something that commanders must pay close attention to to succeed in this game.

Set Up
Game set up is simple, for the Union player anyway, as the starting positions are indicated on the map. A starting area location is also indicated for the initial small Confederate force, the 4th Alabama, but most of the Confederates arrive as reinforcements, and entry hexes are indicated for the bulk of the Southern forces entering the field. Four objective hexes are indicated on the map with red Maltese crosses at the top of the hill.


Game Play
The sequence of play is short and straightforward:
Command Phase – The phasing player checks the command status of each company, and expends the command points of the officers for actions taken by units under his command – every action a unit takes costs command points except for normal offensive and defensive fire.
Movement Phase – Units move and announce any Volley Fire or intent to Melee
Fire Combat Phase – First Defensive Fire, then Offensive Fire
Melee Combat Phase – All units under Melee orders advance to contact and fight it out

The general course of play has the Union player in, or nearly in, position on the hilltop. In order to win, the Confederate player is forced to directly assault this superior Union position. In the limited time of the game (18 turns = 1 hour 48 minutes), there isn't a whole lot of time, or room, for clever maneuvering, and the historical flanking move (and defense) usually materialize during the game. The game usually runs the course of; the Confederate getting his troops onto the field; a series a sharp firefights followed by melee assaults as the sides run out of ammunition; and finally, exhausted and depleted troops pushing and shoving each other around on the hilltop.

Because of the fairly one-sided nature of the battle, with the Union mostly just standing their ground while the Confederate keeps throwing troops at the line, the game is pretty easy to play solo. It's not quite Roarke's Drift, but it's almost the same thing.

Combat
There are two types of combat: Fire and Melee.
Fire Combat is based on the number of strength points firing into a given target hex. Fire is modified by terrain and elevation, target unit formation and facing, whether or not the fire is Volley Fire, or the initial fire (for Union troops only) for the unit.

Melee Combat is based on the strength point differential and is modified by terrain and elevation as well, the presence of an officer or the regimental flag, target facing, and whether or not the unit has fixed bayonets.

Combat results are in strength point losses (which also incur a Morale check), a Retreat, Disorganization, or a simple Morale check.

Morale checks will determine the fate of most units, and those that must make them may become Disorganized, be forced to Retreat, or will be Shattered and eliminated from the game.

All of the above can also be affected by the Fatigue level of the regiment involved. Fatigue effects are felt in the later stages of the game, and essentially magnify any adverse effects that may be incurred.

As I say, this is all old hat to minis gamers, and it may not be a bad gateway game for minis gamers to use to ensnare their board wargaming buddies into the hobby.


Command
Leadership is a big part of this game. As noted, about the only thing a unit can do on its own is shoot. Otherwise they will have to be allotted Command Points for everything from changing their Formation, Moving, Performing Volley Fire or Melee, and Rallying from a Morale loss, among others.

Each commander has a command radius, within which he can bestow command points to his units. This has more of an effect on the Confederate player for most of the game, as they are burdened with maneuvering into position while the Union watches (or rather, 'listens' to) their movements. The Union chiefly makes use of command points for ordered (Volley) fire, changing facing, and Rallying – all making their position a much harder nut to crack.

The system is simple but, like any command system, the player's need to pay attention. Most of the mistakes I kept making during play were due to not getting the command points apportioned correctly.

Scenarios
The game contains only one scenario; the only variant is whether or not to allow an additional Confederate company to enter on the Rebel side.

Victory conditions are based on the capture of the four marked objective hexes, elimination of enemy strength points, capture or killing/wounding officers, and capturing regimental flags. Whoever has the most points after turn 18, wins the game. Simple.

What’s missing?
It may be just the kind of gamer I am but I like a little historical context, and a few design notes. For such a well known battle, the lack of a history lesson doesn't really detract from the game, to me anyway. But I do like knowing why the designer did certain things in certain ways. If none of this matters to you, then it's no big deal, and in any case it doesn't hurt the game.

Solitaire – This is a good title for solitaire play, and the sort of situation that works well as one. I could kill a solid weekend trying and re-trying different tactics against the Union position. As the Union, I would be most interested in seeing how I could minimize my casualties. This game may be somewhat restrictive in the options for both sides, but there is still some room for innovation here and there. It's hard to favor one side over the other in this game without being absolutely partisan, and what fun is that?

Overall Impression
The Confederate gamer isn't going to win this one with a nifty tactical maneuver, instead the timing and coordination of his attacks (and a little luck) will likely determine the outcome. In the most recent couple of games I've played, I started attacking with the Confederates immediately, with whatever I had on the board at the time, thinking to try and pin the Union to his position and deplete their ammo supply. The result was a lot of decimated Rebels and not much left later in the game to carry on the fight. The next game, I held back the Rebels for a few turns, while my reinforcements got onto the field in some strength, then hit the Union position more evenly across the length of the line – keeping them from concentrating their fire on a few units. This time, only a couple of poor die rolls late in the game saved the Union. Neither time did Col Chamberlain have to make his famous bayonet charge to carry the day.


This is a struggle of a game for both sides, but it is an especially difficult fight for the Rebels. There are certainly opportunities for both sides to win, or lose, the game. There isn't much for the Union player to do but hunker down and take the beating for most of the game. Likewise, the Confederate task is pretty clear and won't allow for much in the way of tactical finesse in the attack – and they are always attacking, regrouping, attacking, regrouping, attacking, regrouping etc.

The game truly lies in the last few turns. When there are 4-6 turns left, and both sides are pretty beat up, tired, and out of bullets, the most interesting part of the game begins. Tough decisions must be made; where to stand, where to fall back, where to attack. It's worth the slog through the early game to get to this point, and it's the sort of thing I like about a wargame. And it's just the sort of game you'd expect from this subject.

The game is the thing, and although Little Round Top won't win any beauty contests, it doesn't look that bad, a proverbial diamond in the rough. I especially recommend it for experienced gamers, who should be able to play it to completion in about 2 hours. It has the added bonus of being very compact – making it an ideal game to take on a trip.

My Collection Rating:
Little Round Top: 7
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Pete
Australia
Fitzroy North
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"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."
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I've played Devil's Den which I enjoyed. I'm assuming this is similar in style? Tactical ACW game.

Anyway great review.
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Randall Shaw
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This is a great game. The last time I played was a few years ago with a couple of my friends. Two of us (myself and another) were the Confederates. I was the designated commander of the 'pinning force', while my comrade commanded the 'flanking force'.

I was performing my appointed task (and getting the holy hell beat out of me in the process) as the 'flanking force' went about its business. We were about one turn away from launching a strong attack on the Union left when our opponent in blue decided to do a 'Chamberlain' and charged off 'that little rocky hill' right at me.

He told me he was going to crush me before 'flanking force' could do the same to him but it became apparent almost immediately I would be able to hold (and/or retreat before him) just long enough for a mini-version of Second Manassas to be delivered upon his hapless troops. So he conceded. We tried to get him to return his guys and let us see how the flank attack would have gone but he was in no mood.

Great fun; I'd play this anytime. Very tough on the Confederate. You have to be patient, run your plan, and be willing to see your guys get shot up. If you have the proper constitution though, you will get your opportunity to take that hill.
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Sim Guy
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Exactly. The Confederate player must realize going in that he's going to take appalling losses before things start to go his way. Stretching the Union line is a good tactic. Both of which happened during the actual fight. So the game is not only a good game, but a good simulation. I don't know about you but I was mentally drained by the end of the battle, and could sympathize with the exhaustion of the troops.
 
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Sim Guy
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petegs wrote:
I've played Devil's Den which I enjoyed. I'm assuming this is similar in style? Tactical ACW game.

Anyway great review.


I've never played Devil's Den, but it looks very similar, and it's by the same design team of David G Martin and Leonard Millman. I'd say that's a pretty safe assumption. DD looks pretty big for this system, I imagine it was pretty involved.
 
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Burgermeister Meisterburger
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Minneapolis
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Nice review!

I like a little history with my (little) historical games, too. I can see a game like this today omitting the history lesson, what with Google and Wikipedia and all, but in 1982 if you didn't know about Little Round Top you'd have to schlepp down to the library and use the card catalog--yes, I remember using those--so the omission seems to me to be quite serious.
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Ethan McKinney
United States
El Segundo
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I'm looking forward to the Tattered Flags system's take on Little Round Top. Its Wheatfield game looks just right for this.
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Rick Barber
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McSherrystown
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> I'm looking forward to the Tattered Flags system's take on Little Round Top. Its Wheatfield game looks just right for this.

And coming soon, although not soon enough for me! Hermann Luttmann and I are right now working on the two additions (N&S) to the Wheatfield map, but I think the next direction will be to do the sections that will cover the action at Vincent's Spur! ;-)

I always liked Little Round Top as a game, and it works very nicely to cover the action in a good deal of depth. (I'm also working on my own system that covers the whole of Hood's Attack with 30 yd hexes and 'company' (50 man) counters.)

As an inside story about that action, The Picket Post was for a long time the only game store in Gettysburg (Right across South Street from the Farnsworth House.) Sadly no longer in business, it was the absolute FIRST retail store anywhere to sell 3DoG, This Hallowed Ground and finally my own Summer Storm. During the 135th Anniversary week I had the maps and stuff for THG set up on a table in the back, just to show off the new game.

Bill Clark, the store owner, was a big minis player and wargamer, and throughout the week he ran multiple playings of a minis version of the attack/defense of Little Round Top. He was also a big fan of Warhammer, and after hours we did terrible things to that scenario, involving both dragons and tanks........ Ya really had to be there.....

Rick sauron
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E Butler
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Outstanding review of a great little gem. One of my best wargame memories was an epic battle where most of my (union) troops were out of ammo and I ended the game with an empty musket change into a depleted and broken pile of Rebs. So many cool mechanics in this game....
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