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Subject: Jackson's Great Campaign rss

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Dan Taylor
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Stonewall in the Valley is the fourth in TAHGC’s (now MMP’s) Great Campaigns of the Civil War series. This particular game features brigade sized units, unlike the division sized units present in other games in the series. The game covers Jackson’s epic campaign defending the Valley in May-June, 1862.

Description

The Great Campaigns’ series is part of a (as of now) seven game series covering the Eastern theatre of the American Civil War. Gameplay features usually divisions with corps commanders,. but this particular series (owing to its small size) features brigades with divisional commanders. Brigades are represented by a counter showing their commander’s “tactical rating” and artillery value as well as a “strength point” counter (usually ranging from 2-4 “points.”) Leader counters represent divisional leaders and are rated for their tactical ability as well as “command value,” a number representing the leader’s ability to mount a coordinated attack.

The game components range from good to great. The 3 paper maps are near works of art, showing the Valley in 1862 in a variety of tones and colors. Counties and county capitals are delimited clearly and fords and bridges are large enough not to be missed. The counters are very good, for the most part in black and their sides’ color. (Blue/Grey.) Leader counters have a small picture of the named leader on them and are rather attractive. The rulebook has a number of period pictures and maps to spice up the rules text, along with a “play by play” of the campaign (with place names noted with hexes) along with very nice designer notes, making it an excellent read.

Turns represent one day of fighting. Once past some administrative phases, the game itself is played in a series of “action cycles.” An initiative roll is made, and the player who wins the roll can choose to pass to the other player or move and fight with one of this units. This continues until both players have moved all their units, at which point the game turn ends after a “recovery phase.”

During an “action cycle,” a player can move and fight with one of his divisions or individual brigades. Activating a division means you can use all of that division’s units that are within a certain range of their commander, allowing for large scale attacks or movements. To activate a unit, a player rolls a die for movement, resulting in the movement points for that unit (or set of units.) Units can use the movement points to move or fight as they see fit

Unit move via normal wargame maneuver rules. The only new item for a grognard might be a “cavalry screen,” which allows cavalry to subtract movement points from non-cavalry units moving next to it.

Fighting is handled as part of movement. Units decide how many movement points they wish to spend in the attack (from a “hasty assault” to a “prepared attack), subtract a die rolled by the defender from the die rolled by the attacker with a handful of modifiers and then check the results on the CRT. The CRT is fairly bloody, with particular vengeance given to larger forces, which almost always lose more men than a smaller force. Forces can be “disorganized” in battle, losing part of their strength until they recover.

Once a force runs out of movement points, it gains a “fatigue point.” Once a unit has 4 such points, it can’t be moved for the rest of the turn. If units are already “exhausted” (more on that in a moment), moving a force past fatigue level “2” will result in some possible attrition losses as men drop from the ranks.

Having moved all their forces, both players enter the “recovery phase.” In it, both players begin by “reorganizing” and un-exhausting any units with under 1 fatigue. Having done so, a player flips any units with 3-4 fatigue points to their “exhausted” side, meaning they’ll potentially lose strength if they march on the following turn. Then, both players subtracts 3 (not 4!) fatigue points from their units. Units are now in a variety of states and some still with fatigue, and the game moves to a new turn.

The basic game includes a wealth of scenarios covering the tiny battles that made up the Valley campaign. They are usually one-two turns in length and make up in brevity what they lack for depth. They provide an excellent introduction to the system.

The advanced game adds a few extra rules regarding Harper’s Ferry, supplies and withdrawing forces. The “big one” is presented also, allowing a player to refight the entire four month campaign from beginning to end. Unfortunately, no smaller scenarios are given for the campaign, but given the wealth of scenarios mentioned earlier that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The larger scenario, despite its forbidding time frame, featuring long periods of “quiet” at the start where not much happens.

Analysis

Stonewall in the Valley is an odd wargame. The forces involved are very small compared to earlier (and later) games in the series, so the loss of a strength point or two is actually very important, especially for the Confederates. Another oddity is the disparity in tactical ratings – the Confederates simply out-class the Union at almost every level. Any fight between roughly comparable forces will most likely result in a Union defeat. And finally (most importantly, perhaps), the whole campaign was, in effect, fought to prevent the Union from withdrawing troops, which makes for a game where the Union can crush his opponents, but only by “losing the campaign” as his forces aren’t bound for Fort Monroe.

The last point deserves stressing. The designer (Mr. Balkoski), says in the Designer’s Notes that he believes that the Valley Campaign was generally fought to keep Union reinforcements from reaching McClellan (or central Virginia.) SitV follows suit by giving the Union player large forces to draw upon, but penalizing him if he does so. Echoing other wargames like “Imperium” and “In Their Quiet Fields,” the goal for the larger side is to win with minimal forces. In SiTV, the problem is particularly acute, for without overwhelming forces it’s very difficult for the Union to beat Jackson and his crew of elite fighters.

Of course, the Union can’t simply withdraw from the Valley – there are penalties should the Confederates seize Harper’s Ferry or cut the B&O railroad. So the goal for the Union becomes much like it was historically: keep Jackson occupied and areas defended, and bring in reinforcements only when necessary or when an excellent opportunity presents itself. When that happens, Jackson will probably withdraw down the Valley (as he did historically), striking back all he can to prevent these newly arrived troops from leaving.

The GCACW series also deserves some mention. I think it’s got a lot of subtlety and an agonizing set of choices, mostly along the lines of “do I push to do X this turn, knowing my units will be worn out or do I wait until next turn, when my units are rested but X may be twice as hard?” With this game, it is often the Confederates who must think hard about their actions, as their troops must do many things in many places at many times. The footsore “foot cavalry” of the South will spend much of the game fatigued and exhausted, if the Union can keep the pressure up.

There are some downsides, of course. The problem of intelligence (almost impossible in a standard game), so important to the historical campaign, is almost nonexistent. Jackson knows exactly how many Union units are out there and where they are, and worse the Union know the same thing. It’s wrong to fault a game for a failing of a whole genre, but in this particular case the failing is more easily seen.

There’s also the problem that, from a “game” perspective, the Union is almost always going to lose a fight unless they are very careful. Jackson and his subordinates are simply too good (getting +1-+2 to their die rolls on average) to be beaten. This turns the game into something akin to the old “Frederick the Great” game, where the Coalition side campaigns like crazy in the absence of the titular king but goes on the defensive upon his arrival. This problem isn’t as big if the Union player frames his gameplay in terms of trying to withdraw as many forces as possible, but it could be frustrating.

SiTV is an excellent example of a solid wargame, delivering both interesting gameplay and historical lessons, and well worth chasing down if you’re interested in the Civil War or have an interest in operational games.
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Dan Taylor
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For those interested, there's a "limited intelligence" variant in Skirmisher #2 that I think would solve my complaint about limited intelligence.
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Chris Montgomery
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Old review, I know, but I wanted to say that I found this review very insightful. Thanks for writing.
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Sam Smith
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I too, greatly enjoyed this review. Thanks for contributing!
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Rob M.
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cmontgo2 wrote:
Old review, I know, but I wanted to say that I found this review very insightful. Thanks for writing.

Agreed. Old reviews are much like old people - although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, they can still serve a purpose.*









*Movie quote, not an original insult.
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Dan Taylor
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It's not an old review! I wrote it the equivalent of yesterday! Why I was just... oh crud, it's an old review.
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Greg Bales

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Thanks for the review... even if, like me, it's rather mature. I've been looking at a used copy at a local used book store. It doesn't look like it'd play too well solitaire though.
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Dan Taylor
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Actually, the dice make solitaire play easier in the series, IMHO. You don't have that omniscient ability, so you just end up playing each side as best you can at that moment.
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