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Subject: Playing with Wooden Soldiers: A 150th Anniversary Salute rss

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Mark Herman
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My history with the battlefield at Gettysburg runs deep. Besides having visited it at least 30 times and given several battlefield tours to my staff, I was a member of the foundations Board of Directors and helped to fund and launch the new museum. So, what else would I do on the battles 150th anniversary, but play Gettysburg games. I am pretty sure that I have almost every game ever published on this topic, although I probably missed one or two, but suffice to say I have a large number of choices. The first on the table for the anniversary was my newly purchased Guns of Gettysburg game by Bowen Simmons.

I have noted with some amusement the steady stream of questions about this point or that followed by Bowen’s simple answers as quoted from the rules. I actually think this is a good set of rules, but they do not hold your hand. I think the element that is being lost is this is not so much a board game, but a miniatures game with wooden soldiers. In fact if you think of the game more from the perspective of H.G. Wells than Charles S. Roberts I think you will find the experience easier to manage.

My simple view of the game system is you move two spaces per hour and when you are in the field of fire of an enemy unit you have to stop. Once in an enemy field of fire the only way out is to withdraw or attack. Attacking is like pushing your wooden soldiers forward with a nice mechanic for abstracting artillery support followed by a dice less deterministic outcome.

As this is a meeting engagement there is a nice overlay for introducing new forces into the maw of battle. There is also a nice mechanic for multi-hour turns where you can extend the basic movement rate with restrictions that speeds up down time and allows forces to maneuver for the next set of attacks. If the rebels take one or more objectives they win otherwise history repeats itself. In essence that’s the game.

This is my fourth play of the game solo. The only difference is this is the battles anniversary, so I made a few concessions. I ensured that Heth would be the first unit out of Chambersburg and I seeded him into the 7am slot plus Reynolds would be the first unit out of Emmittsburg, all other conditions according to the rules and randomness of turn entry. Basically I wanted a slight nod to an historical opening, but after that I was happy for randomness to reign.

I have come to favor setting up one of Buford’s units near the Chambersburg entry point and the other just north of town to handle the two CSA divisions that show up unpredictably from Mummasburg or Harrisburg when it is least convenient. As it turned out most of the early CSA reinforcements came out of Chambersburg this time and Buford did his best to delay the rebel advance.

Reynolds and Slocum showed up just in time to oppose Heth and Pender just south of the town. The battle raged back an forth as the battle lines lengthened and the situation had settled into a serpentine set of forces facing each other across the July 1st evening.



As the sun rose on July 2nd both armies were poised with attack orders.


July 2nd opened with both sides declaring attack. The Union went first with Slocum and Sickles attacking the right of the CSA line. The attacks went well with Heth’s division disintegrating and Johnson having to make a mandatory withdrawal. The CSA’s attack were on their left with Early hammering away at Howard in field works that was repulsed. The Confederate divisions of Rodes and Hood approach the battle with Rodes shifting to the left flank to support Early and Hood moving to the right flank.

There then ensued a 5 hour turn that saw the Union extend their left flank to cover the objective that starts near the Emmitsburg Road (still in its original position). The Southern plan at this point was to try to turn either flank to win. The USA chose Hold, whereas the CSA chose attack. This was an instructive asymmetry as an attack freezes the situation to one hour of movement and limits the ability of the Union to react to the last Rebel movement on their flanks. Clock management is an important tactic in this system.

The CSA initiated their attack on the Union right flank with Rodes hitting the end of the line with Early making an adjacent attack on Culps Hill. Rodes successfully turned the Union right, while Early was thrown back and after two unsuccessful attacks with poor replacement pulls was finished offensively. What I really like about this design over its predecessors is the way a division/corps is represented wherein elite units like the Iron Brigade and Hood’s Division retain their offensive power over a series of attacks, while weaker formations quickly disintegrate after a couple of attacks. The knowledge of your order of battle and the amount of offensive energy available is a key element for successfully fighting a three day battle.

It was now Noon and Hood launched his attack on the Union left flank and drove Sickles back. The Union objective just south of their left flank was in real jeopardy. Hood’s division was still at full strength after two assaults, but was becoming fragile. At this point McLaws began to roll onto the field via Chambersburg meaning that the only remaining CSA formation not seen was Pickett, a nice nod from the probability gods to the historical situation.

One point about this game is you have to become a student of how Bowen interpreted and drew the map. My point here is the Chambersburg Road enters Gettysburg and the CSA is prohibited from entering the town via reinforcement movement. If you look very carefully there is a connection between the Chambersburg Road and the Hagerstown Road that intersects just across the Gettysburg town line although both roads are in the same space just in front of the town. I have interpreted this literally that all Chambersburg reinforcements have to cease road movement just west of the town and cannot move to this space and then continue back west on the Hagerstown Road. I could be wrong, but that is how I played it.

At this point the Union had to resort to a withdrawal order. The CSA, who was almost out of tokens, continued to press the attack to keep the turns at one hour and prevent the Union from stabilizing the situation. The Union withdrawal order for 1pm forces the discard of half their tokens as they fell back into a better defensive position.

Hood’s 1pm attack shattered one of Sickles units and turned the Union left flank isolating the Union objective marker. Simultaneously Rodes turned the Union right flank, but reserves and Hancock’s corps were in the area to nullify this threat.


Hood’s 1pm attack


Overall situation the end of 1pm


For the 2pm turn both sides chose Hold as the Union needs to shift forces to try and drive Lee’s army back from the Wakefield Ridge and the captured Union objective. The CSA caissons are almost empty and they need to reload and get McLaws and Johnson over to the right to lock in the victory. As a consequence this next calculation by the CSA on turn duration is critical. Too long and the Union climbs back into the game, too short The CSA has 15 blocks to the Union 14, so the legal turn limit is 4 hours that works in this situation, so the next turn will take the forces through the rest of the afternoon of July 2nd (till 5pm).


Overall situation the end of 5pm


The Union is in a tough situation and chooses Sykes to save the day. Sykes focuses on a very tired Hood unit who is at replacement strength two. The Union due to its last withdrawal movement goes first and shifts Sykes into position and brings up Sedgewick who finally reaches the field. One feature of the multi-hour rule is a unit that uses the increased movement rate must finish in a position adjacent to an extant positioned friendly block. Sedgewick was able to cross a large amount of ground because at his moves conclusion his command ended up perpendicular to a Union block on the front line. This nicely simulates reserves shifting along the line, very cool. The Union then completed its move by declaring an attack for next turn.

At 3pm Pickett, the last CSA division, enters the fray and it also begins its journey to the Confederate right flank. The CSA now gets a 10 step movement with McLaws division shifting to the right of Hood and captures the objective marker. This is the payoff for the series of attacks made by Hood’s division. With Johnson poised for an attack on an isolated unit of Sickles corps , things look good for Dixie.

The day finished out with the Union attacking McLaws position around the captured objective and being repulsed. Johnson returned the favor wrecking the last offensive unit from Sykles Corps, but suffered a similar fate. At this point the CSA divisions of Heth, Early, and Johnson have shot their bolt, while amongst the USA Sickles is no longer offensively capable. As night fell on the battlefield Pickett closed on the captured objective. The Union plan for the last day is to have Hancock drive off Rodes freeing up other units in the army for a major attack on the Confederate right. The Confederate plan is to attack on their right and drive the Union back from the objective to seal the victory.

With both forces on Hold orders to replenish their offensive capability the Union set up Sedgewick for a noon attack and saw Kilpatrick arrive at 11am. The CSA also replenished their tokens, but took the bold move of declaring a withdrawal order. It seemed that too many of the rebel forces were locked up in fields of fire near Gettysburg, so a withdraw order allowed the CSA army to pull back and redeploy toward their right flank allowing for fresh maneuver elements with reserves. The downside is the loss of four tokens and the Union gaining the initiative.

Overall situation, noon July 3rd


The Union had Sedgewick successfully attack a McLaw’s unit followed by an unsuccessful attack by Hancock against Rodes on the Union right. For the 1pm turn the Union went for another attack order and sent Sedgewick crashing into McLaws again near the captured objective. Sedgewick opened with a big barrage that took out an artillery token supporting McLaws, but the attack passed in front of Pickett whose intense defensive fire reduced the Union lead element. Sedgewick’s failed attack sees his lead unit eliminated with the Union falling back.

With the time at 2pm the Union declares a two hour turn, which is less than the legal 6 hour turn. This requires that the Union declare an attack/withdrawal at the end of their next action phase. The non-initiative CSA uses their hold order to bring up Anderson and Pender who are still too far to effect the outcome and issues an attack order. The Union sets up for another attack then also issues an attack order.

The CSA opens with a massive artillery bombardment to support Hood to try and break open the Union position. Sedgewicks subsequent attack eliminates the other Hoods unit, but the overall result is a stalemate near the Peach Orchard. Both sides in their turn have declared another attack.


Hood’s Counterattack

The 5pm turn sees the Rebels get in the first blow, Sedgewick’s weakened unit due to its success cannot be attacked, but Hood continues on through the Union position into the rear of some weak reserves on Cemetary Ridge. Unfortunately for the Union the series of Attacks have depleted their artillery and they did not have the right organizational matches, so Hood is poised to take another objective. This is more to see the possibilities and tie up Union reserves than a good move. The Union has most of Hancock’s corps in the area, so this is not a major threat, and an immediate counter attack into Hoods rear ends his ambitions and his division. Probably not the best move, but I wanted to see what would happen.

The Union lines up for its last shot at saving the day, but it may be too little too late. The Rebels again get in the first attack and Pickett in this narrative saves the day. Pickett uses the last two Confederate artillery units to knock out one of the Union tokens, Pickett’s division then delivers a successful attack on the massing Union columns. This ends their chances of an assault on the objective positions held by McLaws as night draws near.

With Hancock too far away to affect the battle before nightfall the Union cannot declare an attack order so the Confederacy wins the battle on July 3rd at 7pm.


Final Positions

This is the third game in my journey with this series, although GoG is quite different from its Marengo and Austerlitz predecessors. While they are great fun and visually gorgeous I feel that a constant in battles is chaos. The Napoleonic designs are very chess like with the chaos represented by the Stratego mechanic supplying the uncertainty. However, once the forces are revealed the outcome is deterministic, the antithesis of battlefield chaos. What I like about this design is the tokens and the reinforcements bring more of the chaos of battle element into the equation making it my favorite of the three.

Another point that I would like to make is Bowen and I have a similar view on how to show who has the initiative. I used the same reverse logic in my Great Battles of History series and it is good to see it so effectively used in this design. I would be very remiss if I did not mention the elegant objective-shifting mechanic. I think this is a great addition to the Gettysburg design ethos whereby the later the Union reinforcements the further back the Confederate victory locations move. Very clever…

All in all it was a great anniversary celebration with a great new addition to my extensive collection of games commemorating this climatic battle in US history. I recommend this game highly, well worth the wait.

Mark Herman
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Wonderful report, Mark.
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Steve Duke
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Seems to answer some complaints I've read that the game is not solo-friendly.

Thanks!
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dougadamsau wrote:
Wonderful report, Mark.
Thanks, looking forward to my first ftf now that my son in law has showed up for the weekend.
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Doug Adams
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MarkHerman wrote:
dougadamsau wrote:
Wonderful report, Mark.
Thanks, looking forward to my first ftf now that my son in law has showed up for the weekend.
I never realised how closely you were tied to the Gettysburg battlefield. Certainly my first port of call if I never get over there.
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Mayor Jim
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Great report/AAR...thank you! Now on to the wheatfield expansion
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Thanks!

Thank you for taking time to explain reasons behind moves and orders. Great intro and conclusion.

Enlighten me more than a review!


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Bill Eldard
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Great report, Mark. Thanks.
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Great report. The pictures really show off what a great flow this game has. Didn't the Union lose the battle on day 2 when they lost full control of the one objective and did not declare attack orders?
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Greg S
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Thanks for the report, Mark.

I've been on the fence about this for a while. After this write-up, I think I'll take the plunge.....
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HannibalUltor wrote:
Great report. The pictures really show off what a great flow this game has. Didn't the Union lose the battle on day 2 when they lost full control of the one objective and did not declare attack orders?
It also struck me as strange when reading the report but I thought I had misunderstood something in the rules. Now that I ve looked it up in the rulebook under 20, I think you are right. The game should have ended then and there unless it was conitinued intentionally just for exploring various battle situations.
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HannibalUltor wrote:
Great report. The pictures really show off what a great flow this game has. Didn't the Union lose the battle on day 2 when they lost full control of the one objective and did not declare attack orders?
I think you are correct. I initially missed this subtle point. That said the way it turned out was very exciting for a solo game. My first ftf game is later today. :-)
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HannibalUltor wrote:
Great report. The pictures really show off what a great flow this game has. Didn't the Union lose the battle on day 2 when they lost full control of the one objective and did not declare attack orders?
Also doesn't union have to go into perpetual attack orders once the objective is lost?

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cfinchjr2 wrote:


Also doesn't union have to go into perpetual attack orders once the objective is lost?

Almost correct, as this is true only from 2nd July onwards. It doesnt apply on July 1st.
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did you get an answer to the question about the road bypass at the north edge of the town?
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PeteyWA wrote:
did you get an answer to the question about the road bypass at the north edge of the town?
Never asked it as a question. I think I have it right, everything about the rules and map should be taken literally. But happy to hear any comments to the contrary.

Mark
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PeteyWA wrote:
did you get an answer to the question about the road bypass at the north edge of the town?
Well, the rules are pretty clear about it: "(Confederate player.) You cannot trace an entry path across either of the two areas that make up the town of Gettysburg."

The limitation is regarding the areas that enclose Gettysburg, not the graphics that represent the town.

Additionally, under rule 3. The Map, inside the Map Symbols box on page 2, there is this statement: "Important: Terrain graphics not shown here (woods, streams, etc.) are cosmetic and do not regulate play."

So I think Mark got the right interpretation in his replay.
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Charles Finch
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michael_k wrote:
cfinchjr2 wrote:


Also doesn't union have to go into perpetual attack orders once the objective is lost?

Almost correct, as this is true only from 2nd July onwards. It doesnt apply on July 1st.
Yes true, but in this case I was referring to 1pm on 2 jul when CSA took the objective, forward
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cfinchjr2 wrote:
michael_k wrote:
cfinchjr2 wrote:


Also doesn't union have to go into perpetual attack orders once the objective is lost?

Almost correct, as this is true only from 2nd July onwards. It doesnt apply on July 1st.
Yes true, but in this case I was referring to 1pm on 2 jul when CSA took the objective, forward
It would appear that the CSA capture of an objective without ready reserves is a game winner. It makes sense from the perspective that losing an objective more or less means that one of your flanks was turned or your center penetrated. In this period it is reasonable to assume that Meade, unlike us wargamers, would pull back if he could not immediately counterattack to nullify the threat.

In either case the CSA won, but I learned a lot about the system by incorrectly soldiering on.

Mark
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MarkHerman wrote:
I actually think this is a good set of rules, but they do not hold your hand.
Oh, it's not the lack of hand-holding that I care about. It just bothers me when a rulebook wrinkles its nose in disgust whenever I enter the room.

Seriously, I do wish that Mr. Simmons' sample turns (posted online) had been expanded into a full-fledged playbook and included with the published game. That was the original idea, I thought?

(By the way, when I argued for the inclusion of a playbook three years ago I held up the Washington's War playbook as a shining example. So clearly Mr. Herman likes to hold hands at least occasionally.)

Regardless, I greatly appreciate the many play examples that GoG fans have been posting. I'll start with those when I finally dive into the rules.



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wkover wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
I actually think this is a good set of rules, but they do not hold your hand.
Oh, it's not the lack of hand-holding that I care about. It just bothers me when a rulebook wrinkles its nose in disgust whenever I enter the room.

Seriously, I do wish that Mr. Simmons' sample turns (posted online) had been expanded into a full-fledged playbook and included with the published game. That was the original idea, I thought?

(By the way, when I argued for the inclusion of a playbook three years ago I held up the Washington's War playbook as a shining example. So clearly Mr. Herman likes to hold hands at least occasionally.)

Regardless, I greatly appreciate the many play examples that GoG fans have been posting. I'll start with those when I finally dive into the rules.



Thanks for the nod to Washington's War example of play. This particular example was done by Joel Toppen the developer in this case. I have been doing this as my own best practice since Pacific War. In For the People and Empire of the Sun I play out the entire first turns of the game.

My comment on a rule books quality still stands. It is as far as I can see complete, unambiguous, and correct. That does not mean that it is not terse and every sentence matters. Impressive, but not user friendly when you are starting out. Having written rules books for over three decades and had comments range from the worst rules ever to the best ever, I am very sympathetic to the designers pov here. I see rules as distinct from play aids, another area I have professional scars from. Basically no rule book can ever satisfy our different ways of absorbing information. What works for one person dismally fails for another.

The question is does the game having a comprehensive example of play available, but not in the box count? In the 21at century does having a website with lots of support materials count? As a consumer it is certainly reasonable to expect a nice copy in the box, but I think the standard is shifting. I used the online resources to smooth out the bumps in my understanding, but I also see your view that you wanted it in the box.

Learning some games is an experience and sometimes it's a journey.

Mark
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Thank you. This report is the perfect wording of sensations I had while learning this game and that I couldn't figure out myself.

I agree with the general remarks on the game.
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Chuck Parrott
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Great report Mark!

I had the same feeling that you did about this being almost more of a miniatures game than a boardgame but came away with almost an opposite conclusion about the rules. They are really water tight and everything is indeed answered but the board situations often leave me with a sense of 'is that really right?' followed by a quick reading of the relevant section. Much like miniatures rules where you get a lot more freedom but with that freedom can come a lot of rules questions or odd cases to be noodled through.

I do note though that you either had a typo or a misunderstanding around the 2pm turn of the 2nd day. You mentioned the legal turn limit of 4 but in fact it would have been 5. The turn limit is 1 hour + 1 additional hour per the smaller number of blocks divided by 3 (round down) The Union 14 blocks would yield 4 additional hours + the 1 mandatory hour.
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David
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Thank you for an excellent AAR. I really enjoyed your insightful comments in addition to the session commentary. I'm particularly excited by this games solo suitability. An indicator of a great military boardgame is how much you think about a session and your strategy and tactics afterwards. Both me and my opponent have done that following our game.
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Great game narrative and analysis thanks Mark. Looking forward to your comments regarding your first f2f experience with the game (hint hint).
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