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oystein eker
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Guns of Gettysburg – The Artificial Strawberry Candy.



My Background.

My interest in pre WWI games relates to the fact that you can simulate pretty accurate without complex rules for radar, aircraft and so on. By coincidence I started with Napoleon, but abandoned it due to complexity with square/cavalry/gun tactics. With the weaker cavalry in Civ wargames this era suited me better. Watched a Bowen game once. It was a real beauty to look at, but it dropped down my wishlist due to lack of square/cavalry/gun tactics. A couple of months ago GoG hit the Hotness list at BGG, and I was hooked.



GoG –is it a simple or complex game?

It is hard to say. Units have only two strength – one or two. No Terrain Effects chart, only a few symbols are printed on the map. No Combat Result Table. No dice. No cards. Rules are only 13 pages long. You cannot believe this is a complicated game.

You read the rules twice. Understand everything, following the setup for a solo play. No problem. Grab the Buford blocks, were to place them? They suppose to stop the rebels, but still able to run.

Start to read to rules once more, and you realize that there is no learning curve, it is a wall. Luckily it is a low wall, with great help from fellow BBGers who throw ropes down to you, it is not a brain breaking climb.



Start with the not so good stuff. The Rulebook.

Complexity due to density.
Number of “if”`s cramped in 13 pages are 123. Compared to Downtown 48 pages and counting 256 “if”`s . Only half of “if” numbers pr page. Downtown complexity is rated as high.

If you want to yellow out important sentences, you have yellow out every word. No room to take a breath.

Have a Déjà vu with Republic of Rome rules (Kevin?). They are also too compact and hard to learn. One helpful soul did a rewrite and doubled the number of pages. Suddenly the game was easy to learn. IMO the GoG rules could have been better by extended to at least 20 pages.


Missing.
The Playbook as a tutorial. Reading the “Labyrinth” rules I did not understand a single rule. The Playbook included (same size as the rulebook) is loaded with game turn examples with comments. Reading that and with an excellent player aid, Labyrinth was an easy game to learn. The GoG rules are build up as a reference, and needs a playbook with a lot of examples to ease the learning curve.


GOG rules as a reference.
Someone must have tripped in the printer room door sill, and shuffled the pages. See page 4 – Turn Sequence. The sequence jumps to different sections. Do you think that next section is the natural Duration Phase? No of course it is the last phase “General Orders”. When you want to check the block reduction after an attack, you find the detailed procedure in the section of block general description in the first page. I will not bore you with more examples.


What is good (rulebook).

Well – it is only 13 pages. There is no ambiguity. Everything you need is there.

Final word when learning by reading the rulebook. Be aware:

Do not assume
Do not think
Just read and remember.

It is easy to assume that the use of arty are the same for both attacker and defender when browsing through the rules for the first time. Assumptions get stuck.

Everything is different for attacker and defender. Arty, field of fire, extended field of fire, extended areas. Just to mention a few traps you will fall into.

How to learn.
Play solo one turn. Erase (to wash away assumptions). Read all 13 pages.
Play solo one turn. Erase (to wash away assumptions). Read all 13 pages.
Play solo one turn. Erase (to wash away assumptions). Read all 13 pages.
Continue……

…..

AND NOW TO THE EXCELLENT STUFF!

Components

Touch and feel the small, but heavy box, you know it is a Rolls Royce, even before you open the lid. The cardboard thickness, the fine grain wood. The sound of wood against wood, and wood against map. The dampened color that does not strain your eyes in hours of play. The color of the map, a fine balance between readability and blended colors. A silent wow is all I can add to this.

Add small details like the double sided Kilpatrick token and one rulebook to each player, and you know this is in the opposite end of the Universe compared to a Kickstarter project .


Research
Reading the Bowen Diary is a joy, and you realize the years of work put into the game prior to release. You do not need to come up with a brilliant idea or variant. You know Bowen have been there and done that years ago.


Simulation and realism.

Units. As Gilbert Collins pointed out in his excellent video, each block does not represent an exact Division or Brigade. The unit design is probably more a hybrid for speed of play as the priority.


3Ci and Fog of War, friction. The command system is too perfect to be a simulation. The courier reports back to you, and rides off again with new orders that will be executed within an hour. In other games (Dean Essig) you must calculate how many hours the orders take to reach destination, and add some delay on top. In other games you find a more abstract command friction by waiting for the correct card to execute your order.


Is this a miss by Bowen? No. To speed up play you have to sacrifice something. And the sacrifice is frustration. In a simulation you are frustrated by the fact that Pickett did not attack when ordered to, just waited and feet dragging until Union was prepared. When the game is over and put back in the box, you should still feel the anger and frustration as Lee did. But this takes rules and time to simulate. No frustration means faster game play. I can promise you frustration in GoG, but not due to an incompetent General, but your own decisions.


The closest real life simulation procedure is the attack. Here you experience the less effectively of artillery in an attack. Division moves and get hit by more effective defensive artillery at close range. Next is the close combat with a loser retreat. And finally a design for effect of out of ammo. Awesome combat sub-system, that plays incredible fast compared to other games.


Fog of War in general.
Most obvious is of course is the block design. A more abstract FoW are the reinforcement arrivals with the guns. Sometimes the guns arrives too early and disturb the logistics (Fill up the rack), or often too late. And of course the hidden opponent rack adds to FoW in general.

Add the lack of leaders, stragglers and rally to this, and the conclusion must be that there is almost no simulation or realism in the classic definition. But…. Wait….


Gameplay.

You can consider each phase as a strange piece of a puzzle. During play you see how the pieces snap together, and the Magic appears as a nude woman in the mist. You realize that there is a strange Fog of Game that fits perfectly.

There are no Victory Points to count. Just a brilliant objective movement system to balance the game towards your victory.


THIS GAME PLAYS FAST!


This is the single most important asset of GoG. Draw a battle token. Move a few blocks two step each. Declare next order. Next player does the same. Repeat.

Think of it. You can play 3 days of Gettysburg in one long lazy Sunday. Admit that your other Gettysburg wargames are collecting dust. GoG is getting more addictive for each time I open the box. We want to play it now. And we can. No tiny cardboard counter setup threshold to climb over.

Immersion.

This is the single most important asset of GoG. (Copy paste from above). You see the view from Cemetery Ridge. Your guns have repelled the rebels. No rebel retreat, just a slaughter. Sedgwick guns are low on ammo. Time to move Howard over, and maybe prepare the Reserve Artillery in addition. Rebels must be out of ammo too?

You check the flank. Round Top, you can count the trees. You see the rocks in Devils Den. You forget everything else. This is a total battle immersion.

And finally The Artificial Strawberry Candy allegory.

You know the candy is artificial. The look is not a perfect strawberry. The smell is artificial, and the taste. But put it in your mouth and your brain spells s-t-r-a-w-b-e-r-r-y- despite what you know.

The same with Guns of Gettysburg. You know that blocks are not a perfect division or brigade. You know that the Fog of War is replaced by a Fog of Game.

But when your finger pushes Iron Brigade over to Cemetery Ridge, your brain spells G-E-T-T-Y-S-B-U-R-G 1863. Total immersion by pure magic.


Final verdict:

I really, really want to give GoG a solid 10. But just have to subtract some due to the lack of Playbook examples and not so well organized rulebook.

Score 9.5 - with laurels.



Thank you Bowen for creating GoG.


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John Gorski
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This is an excellent, spot on review. Your advice to Erase (to wash away assumptions...) applies to the majority of die rolling, hex and counter war gamers (no offense intended) who would like to try this game.
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Kåre Dyvik
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Very enjoyable read! Particularly interesting to read a wargamer's first experience with a Bowen Simmons game.
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oystein eker
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Gorski wrote:
This is an excellent, spot on review. Your advice to Erase (to wash away assumptions...) applies to the majority of die rolling, hex and counter war gamers (no offense intended) who would like to try this game.


Just like me - an old hex and counter player. I have done some embarrassing mistakes in this novel game. Just check my rules posting history ...
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Josh Luub
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I also enjoyed your review. I do have to point out though, that you said this:
Quote:
this is in the opposite end of the Universe compared to a Kickstarter project .

But this was a kickstarter project! Admittedly it is a bit unusual for kickstarter in that it was done on time, as specified, with high quality and no drama. So you can be forgiven for making that mistake
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Mike Hoyt

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Wow, great review! Almost makes me regret not backing this one, and that from somebody with very little interest in ACW
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squonk wrote:
I also enjoyed your review. I do have to point out though, that you said this:
Quote:
this is in the opposite end of the Universe compared to a Kickstarter project .

But this was a kickstarter project! Admittedly it is a bit unusual for kickstarter in that it was done on time, as specified, with high quality and no drama. So you can be forgiven for making that mistake


Ouch. You should not mentioned this. I am the infamous Kickstarter hater among local fellow gamers. Hope they do not discover this thread.
gulp
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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eker wrote:
squonk wrote:
But this was a kickstarter project!

Ouch. You should not mentioned this. I am the infamous Kickstarter hater among local fellow gamers.

The good news is that you can continue to hate Kickstarter, because the design of this game & its components was done years before the Kickstarter project was launched. (In this post describing the changes, Kevin uses the word "redesign" a couple times, but it's in the sense of changing the shapes of tokens from triangles to house-shaped and changing their arrangement on the printed sheet, not changing the types or number of tokens or the rules for using them.) So although technically it was printed as a Kickstarter project, the Mercury guys were able to run the project unlike whatever projects you happen to argue with your friends about, ha ha.
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Mick Mickelsen
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This review captures my sentiments about the game perfectly. Learning this game is not for the feint of heart. It doesn't seem that difficult on the first read but knowing all the rules well enough so that one is playing the game with skill will take most people several plays at least. I think a very extended example of play that incorporates most of the odd situations and surprising rules would be tremendously useful.
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Barry Kendall
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blockhead wrote:
Wow, great review! Almost makes me regret not backing this one, and that from somebody with very little interest in ACW


Mike, Game Surplus lists it in stock at the almost-unbelievable price of $45.00.
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I do not think I have read a more concise, complete, and accurate review with which I so wholeheartedly agree.

Well done.
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Mike Hoyt

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Barry Kendall wrote:
blockhead wrote:
Wow, great review! Almost makes me regret not backing this one, and that from somebody with very little interest in ACW


Mike, Game Surplus lists it in stock at the almost-unbelievable price of $45.00.


Thanks Barry! And see NWS has it for $43. Out of curiosity, what was it on KS?
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Josh Luub
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blockhead wrote:
Thanks Barry! And see NWS has it for $43. Out of curiosity, what was it on KS?

LMGTFY: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1280624810/the-guns-of-g...
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Jon Gautier

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The KS price was higher at $70, but it did include shipping. It's a heavy game, so figure $10-15 in shipping, making the low, low $45 into $55 or $60--much closer to the KS.
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David Janik-Jones
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blockhead wrote:
Wow, great review! Almost makes me regret not backing this one, and that from somebody with very little interest in ACW

I started my "9" rated comment for GoG saying exactly the same thing ... tactical WW2 for me, baby. No real ACW interest. But this is a masterpiece of a game, for exactly the reasons laid out in the OP. Great summary of the game.
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DaveyJJ wrote:
blockhead wrote:
Wow, great review! Almost makes me regret not backing this one, and that from somebody with very little interest in ACW

I started my "9" rated comment for GoG saying exactly the same thing ... tactical WW2 for me, baby. No real ACW interest. But this is a masterpiece of a game, for exactly the reasons laid out in the OP. Great summary of the game.


I can feel myself caving.....
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Rick Barber
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I'm a real Gettysburg Grognard who you would expect to have problems with every one of the 'leaps of historical/simulation faith' that were mentioned in this excellent review.

But I know Bowen, have read every one of his design diaries throughout this game's history, and know this to be a real gem of a game experience. Is it the ultimate Gettysburg simulation? No, far from it in a lot of ways. But it is exactly the gem of a gaming experience that Bowen was shooting for from the very beginning, and I bought it for the day that I have the time to really grok the rules and play it for the game that it is. Think of it as a master level game of blue and gray chess on a masterpiece of a board, and I don't mean that in any sort of derogatory sense.sauron
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Freddy Dekker
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Thanks for the review.
Sure hope they simplify those rules.

In addition I've learned you shake your gameboxes before opening - the sound of wood on wood and wood on board - how err unusuall and that you don't like general Picket.

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Robert Stuart
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Well, you've convinced me: I want to buy this game!

Oh, wait... I already own it. (Recalculating) OK: I want to play this game!

By the way, Mercury has done an excellent job with the production quality. Now, if I never participate in a Kickstarter project again, I'll have a 100% satisfaction level.
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Robert Stuart
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mickmick wrote:
This review captures my sentiments about the game perfectly. Learning this game is not for the feint of heart. It doesn't seem that difficult on the first read but knowing all the rules well enough so that one is playing the game with skill will take most people several plays at least. I think a very extended example of play that incorporates most of the odd situations and surprising rules would be tremendously useful.


I happen to be a fan of 'minimalism', so I personally don't see the need for this.

However, I've found this sense of being at an initial loss as to what to do, with a lot of games. I first ran into it, years ago, with Rommel in the Desert (OK, I've set it up. Now what do I do?). I have found it with tactical level games, most recently Armored Knights North Africa: Operation Crusader (well, that's battalion level, not strictly tactical), Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles and Panzer (second edition).

So, in a strange sort of way, Guns of Gettysburg makes me feel right at home.
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Freddy Dekker
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Haha, I actually was quite convinced that I was the only person who had this and attribited this to my stupidity.

Indeed, set up the board and the units and... now what?!
Haha, laughit sounds so familiar.

I'm sure what causes this.
Maybe we are people who need more detailed objectives than just "go kill everyone".ninja

I wonder if this is one of those games that will become cheaper after the first hype has died down, or if it'll be a collectors item in no time and you'll have to pay a fortune in the future.
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