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Subject: Grant versus Lee, Round 1 rss

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Dan Taylor
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Bloody Roads South is the fifth game in what was The Gamers (now MMP’s) Civil War brigade series. Like its predecessors, it’s a brigade level treatment of a major Civil War battle, in this case the battle in the Wilderness, Virginia, in 1864. Units are (with one exception) brigades and/or leaders.

The counters and map are serviceable. The counters show a corps silhouette (for the Union) or a state of origin (for the state’s-rights Confederates), along with their morale and initial fire level. The counters have come a long way since the previous game in the series (Barren Victory) and are nearly as nice as modern ones. The map is, of course, unmounted and while isn’t as nice as later games in the series is certainly more than serviceable. (No “pastel fields” here.)

If the reader isn’t familiar with the Civil War Brigade Series as a whole, it might be wise to check a more general review of the series at some other location before looking at this game's specific review. This review will assume general knowledge of the series’ concepts and ideas, and will seek to review the game’s specific ideas.

The game has the most special rules (almost 6 pages) of any of the CWBS game I’ve seen, and the rules are much more detailed. (So detailed, in fact, that they are reproduced on the game board itself, so often will you be consulting them.)

The terrain itself (The Wilderness) is almost as much an enemy for the Union as the Confederates are. In an attempt to show what a confusing mess the battle was, the Wilderness’ (albeit labeled optional) effects are terrible: Union units are automatically shaken when not moving on a road and they’re unable to better their morale state unless they roll a 1 or 2 (like a routed unit) unless stacked with a leader. For either side, rolling a 2 or 10 resolves fire attacks as if they were flank attacks, simulating the way units in the battle suddenly found themselves flanking (or being flanked) by the enemy. Moving at night in the wilderness (while not on a road) results in automatic DG followed by routing, for those wanting to make midnight marches upon enemy lines through rough terrain.

The command structure for both armies is a little looser than usual, with the possibility of brigade reassignment and “brigade goals” for brigades with B or better morale. (The former happen only within a corps, the second are handled much like divisional goals.) Neither side has any anti-initiatives, which should make the Union player dance for joy, as he’s finally got a command structure with some decent generals and not an anti-initiative roll in sight. This celebration would be premature.

The Confederate command structure is its usual loose self, with the added bonus that Lee can take over the job of a wounded/killed corps commander. The Union command structure is cumbersome, as it was historically. Gone is the tightly knit group of commanders who, with initiative and drive, won Gettysburg. Grant (the Union player) can write orders to anyone, but will mainly write them to Meade (the army commander, who automatically accepts them and can hand them out next turn.) and to Burnside (another corps commander, but unable to take orders from Meade due to seniority reasons.) Grant can write orders to anyone else he wants, but they’re subject to a one column shift to the left. If this sounds Byzantine, it is.

Further complicating life for the Union player are additional rules hampering the Union player’s offensive drive.. One is that, due to the size of the new Union corps, the Union army will perform “divisional stoppage checks” rather than one stoppage check at the corps level. Also, outside of one corps commander (Hancock) and about 6 division commanders, no one else in the Union army can use initiative to give themselves “attack” orders. And the final blow to the Union player’s offensive plans is a requirement that, outside of the II Corps, all other units shift one column to the left for all (divisional) stoppage checks.

These command results in a Union army almost incapable, outside of Hancock’s corps, of a sustained offensive. The average Union divisional commander (usually a 1 or 2) must, before taking any casualties, roll a “6” or better to keep his division on the attack. And again, outside of Hancock, the corps commanders are unable to restart their stopped units without new orders.

The armies’ compositions are also very different. The Confederate ranks are almost all “B” morale levels, with the occasional C and A (Hurrah for Texas!). The Rebs also have wreck levels more similar to “In Their Quiet Fields” than anything else. (The aforementioned Texas brigade has a wreck level at 200 men!) The generals are, for the most part, 2s and 3s, resulting in a hard-hitting, solid army.

For the Union, the bounty men and leaving veterans haven’t been so kind. The typical Union morale level is a “C,” with more than the usual number of “D”s and even an “E!” The union army certainly has the numbers, but its staying power is in real question, outside out about 4 veteran divisions scattered throughout the army. The divisional commanders, outside of a few bright stars, are almost all 1s and 2s. Gettysburg this is not.

As a historical simulation of the fighting, the game does very well. It’s almost impossible to maintain a battle line in the woods, and the fighting tends to cluster around the two main roads in the area, as it did historically. It’s somewhat easy to see the importance of some of the crossroads and hills (especially the Chewning farm). The Confederates can counterattack as swiftly as their historical counterparts, and the Union command difficulties are highlighted as well as their tentativeness on the attack.

All this adds up to one of the most frustrating games in the series. A longtime Union player used to poor command structure and sub-par troops may still be astonished at the tools he’s given to work with. Burnside’s command, in particular, is uniquely incapable of doing almost anything short of routing. Even usual stalwarts like the Pennsylvania Reserves division are eyeing their enlistment time and their fighting spirit is not quite as good as the past. Hancock’s corps still packs a solid punch (and can do more with help from other divisions), but even so keeping an offensive going in the rough terrain is almost more than even the old II Corps can do. In short, though the Union outnumbers the Confederates 2:1, it takes about that number of Union troops just to keep a solid firing line against the enemy, while troops head for the safety of the rear.

As a result, someone looking for anything outside of a historical lesson may want to give this game a pass. There are other games in the series which are much more balanced and interesting, such as the 7 Day’s Battles or Barren Victory. It’s certainly not a bad game, but the obstacles the Union player is operating under make it a most difficult side to play.

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