"To be honorable and just is our only defense against men without honor or justice." -Diogenes of Sinope
"Today is the yesterday you won't be able to remember tomorrow" -Pinkwater
Battle Cry is a new game using an old name - it has nothing to do with the ~1960 Milton Bradley/American Heritage title of the same name. It is a game about the American Civil War and uses plastic miniature soldiers, but otherwise is completely different - and much better!
The game is fairly simple as wargames go, yet deep enough to create enjoyable play. Some of the rules may be a bit simplistic, but house rules are easy enough to implement, so don't hold back on that account - give this game a try.
The game comes in a large box, alas - I say "alas" because I own a lot of games and shelf space is tight. But the components are spiffy: 116 plastic soldiers, in four distinct types: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Generals. There is one board with blank hexes, and 46 hexes of terrain to place on the board, plus 6 fieldwork counters. There are eight dice with special stickers, 60 command cards, and a rulebook with 15 scenarios after the rules.
The scenarios tell you how to set up the board and pieces and hand size for various battles in the Civil War. You can find more scenarios on the web, written by fans of the game, if you're interested.
Sequence of Play
Each turn you play a command card, activate a number of units somewhere on the board as dictated by the command card, move and/or battle with those units, then draw a replacement card. Let's look at these elements one at a time.
Draw a command card: there are 60 command cards, 43 of which are Order Cards. The board is divided by lines into three fronts: left flank, center, and right flank. Most of the Order cards will let you activate a number of units on a given front. For example, you may play a "Skirmish" card which lets you activate any unit on your left flank, or a "Probe" card which lets you activate any two units in your center, and so on. A few of the Order cards let you activate units from multiple fronts at once.
The remaining 17 cards are Special Order Cards. There are 11 different types of Special Order Cards, which allow you to do various things: activate all Artillery, moving or firing them twice, for example, or Force March your Infantry in any one section. Some cards are more powerful than others, so there is some "luck of the draw" in the game. I'd rather have a "Hit & Run" card than a "Sharpshooter" card, for example, as the latter only gives you a one sixth chance to kill an enemy General, while the former allows you to move all your Cavalry twice, with an attack in between!
The cards nonetheless make the game interesting, and hand size is determined by the quality of the actual generals present in the historical battles. Thus early in the war on the eastern front, the Union player often finds himself with more units than his opponent but a smaller hand size.
So you play one card from your hand, and if it allows you to activate units (as 90% of the cards do), you select the units to be activated, and may move them, one by one. A unit, by the way, includes a number of plastic figures: four for Infantry, three for Cavalry, two for Artillery, and one for a General. This determines how many hits a unit can take. One piece in each unit is carrying a flag - this is always the last piece removed as the unit takes casualties. Capturing six of your opponent's flags wins you the game.
Infantry and Artillery may move one space when activated; Cavalry and Generals may move three spaces. Any unit that was activated may then battle. Cavalry need to be adjacent to an enemy to battle, but Infantry and Artillery may fire from a distance, at reduced power. A General can't battle alone, but gives a +1 die bonus to an attached unit. An attached General may be moved with its unit, or may be moved separately to join a different unit.
Battle is resolved with special dice. Each die has six stickers: two showing Infantry and one each showing Cavalry, Artillery, Retreat, and Crossed Sabers. You roll a number of dice based on unit type and distance to the target unit - the strength of the firing unit has nothing to do with how many dice to roll. (We tried a house rule: if only the flag piece is left, reduce the number of dice rolled by one. It just seemed to make sense. But after just a couple of games, we realized this was unnecessary, and dropped it. Attacking with a one-flag unit carries its own penalty: if you leave it at the front, it's a quick victory point for the enemy ... no, the game is very well thought out. It was years in the playtesting, and it shows: it's solid.)
Damage is determined by how many dice match the target type: for each face showing the same type of unit as the target unit, the target unit loses one figure. A Crossed Sabers is a wild card, damaging any unit regardless of type (and is the only way to kill a General). The Retreat face means the unit must retreat after taking casualties.
Terrain affects the game in varying ways: Woods, Buildings, and Waterways require you to stop when you enter them, for example, while Buildings and Field Works grant a -2 to the number of attacking dice used against you. Many types of terrain block line of sight, others grant a -1 battle bonus, while others are just obstacles.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
First, it's a game, not a simulation. Hard-core wargamers will be offended by some of the rules - they don't necessarily reflect reality. They make for a good game, but often not a realistic recreation of an actual battle. This is fine with me, but may not be with you.
Next, there's a fair bit of luck. We had one game where both the dice and the cards were against my opponent. Whenever I fired, I hit an amazing percentage of the time. He couldn't hit the proverbial barn. He never got Left Flank cards the whole game - I marched right up, blasted away at him turn after turn, and he could never fire back! So yes, an occasional game can be spoiled by one-sided luck, but this is both rare and true for most games that have a luck element. Still, Battle Cry has potential for lots of this, as there are both cards and dice to consider, and this may not be to your taste.
Finally, you have to have patience to play this game the way it deserves to be played. The temptation, when you get the right card, to rush a troop ahead to blast away is high. However, it's suicidal: you really have to take your time and develop a whole section, at least, before engaging the enemy too closely. Infantry move slowly, as do Artillery. Patience. My temperament in wargaming is not, by nature, patient. I love lots of movement in wargaming - wheeling around flanks to strike from an unexpected direction is great fun; slow plodding is foreign to me. So I have to curb my basic tendencies when playing this game, and sometimes I get frustrated. Overall I still enjoy it, mind you, but every now and then I wish I could have a Force March or Hit & Run card permanently in my hand, and lots of Cavalry with lots of figures ... Even so, I still love this game and will continue to play it. This may not even be a flaw to you, and it's only a minor one to me.
The game is fairly easy to learn, but has enough differences in terrain and scenarios to give good replay value. While the game isn't aimed at the hardcore wargamer, those of us who enjoy an occasional wargame will be thoroughly entertained by it. As a bonus, it's a great way to introduce younger players to the wargaming hobby. It feels relatively authentic, rewards good tactical thinking, and is fun to play. Recommended.
-Review originally published 2000