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Battle of the Rosebud» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Interesting Subject, Difficult Game to Play rss

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David Allen
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Let me start off by saying I am a big fan of Legion Wargames and I have had friendly correspondence with Randy Lein on a number of occasions. Also, I am a huge fan of the subject matter, and visited both the Rosebud and Little Bighorn battlefields just last month (October 2016).

That said, I had some problems with this game, namely in the number of counters that stack up in each hex during the game.

The stacking limit is 25 combat factors per hex. Since most units are in the 2-6 combat factors range, that means a stack of 4 to 6 units per hex isn't uncommon. There is a disadvantage (DRM bonus for the firer) in stacking too many units in one hex, but the advantage (concentration of firepower) makes it worthwhile.

Each unit, however, can be stacked with a counter representing horse holders, a counter marking casualties, one or two counters marking status (Disrupted, Prone, etc.) and counter marking recent action (Fired, etc.). That means each unit counter can be stacked with four or five additional counters, for a total of 16 to 30 counters stacked in a single hex. For me and my fat fingers, that becomes incredibly unwieldy, and Heaven forbid you knock a stack over and lose track of which status counter belongs to which unit.

I see (but have not used) an off-map display available for download on the BGG page for this game. That would certainly help with the counter density problem, but it detracts from the game and requires management of two representations of forces (map and off-map).

It is interesting that there are 200+ counters for this game, but only about 40 counters represent units for both sides. The remainder are status counters, leaders, horse holders, etc.

I haven't thought about this much, but I think the nature of this battle makes it difficult to design a game based on the battle. There are relatively few combatants ranging over a very large physical area. This means that you can use counters representing large units (battalions) on a small map with hexes representing large areas (e.g. a mile or more across), use counters representing smaller units (companies) on a VERY large map with hexes representing smaller areas with only room for one or two companies (100-200 yards?), or do what was done in this game design and use smaller units (companies) on a manageability-sized map use hexes representing an area 1/4 mile across and allow several units to stack in the same hex, creating the towering counter stacks that just don't work for me.

Another concern I have with this game (and the system in general) is the terminology used to describe different actions. They sound very modern for a game representing a battle that occurred in the 19th century. I feel better about terms like "disrupted," "pinned" and "opportunity fire" in games that portray actions in battles in which the participants would have been familiar with those terms. (This is a personal preference and I might be wrong about the etymology of these and other terms used in the game.)

So, while the production values of this game are very high and the subject matter is one in which I am fascinated, I had too much trouble with the tall stacks of counters for this game to have been much fun.


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Mike Taylor
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David,

I would prefer to say it is difficult to master but easy to play, but I am biased!

Yes, battles such as these are a bit difficult to design because of the unit and ground scale. They tend to cover large areas with relatively small sized units. I was trying to find a manageable sized game that still retains the flavor of the skirmish fight, and all the challenges facing both sides.

The main idea and intent of the the system was to have players fight with little to no stacking beyond a single unit and leader per hex. However, higher stacking was allowed because of the ground scale. The penalties for unit density, the system of individual targeting and melee should steer you away from that. Stacking may be good against melee, but if your opponent doesn't melee then it is a waste. You cannot combine fire. For example, if an Indian unit advances the US player can fire one unit at the Indian unit. After that the Indian unit can simply rout away, and the other units in the stack cannot fire at him. The Indian player can do this all day (unless you roll well every time!) until you exhaust your ammo. Not a good tactic. Protecting your horses may also become more difficult.

What I have found through game play and player feedback is that players tend to want to dive in and use melee as the primary means of combat. If that is the case then the game will be very short and very bloody. Remember, there were reasons why they didn't do that out there in the west. The Indians knew how to fight in the skirmish style, but it took a while for the US soldiers to adapt from their Civil War tactics and doctrine. I think this is also true for many players new to this system. I don't know if that is the case with your style of play, I'm just saying what I have experienced from feedback.

There should be a lot of maneuvering, fire combat, Indian self routing to avoid melee, and very little melee unless the defender is weak and in a bad morale state.

Try the game using the markers and off map holding boxes. I realize that this is a distraction for you, but at least give it a try before you give up on the game. You may also try the game with a couple of self imposed stacking rules, if that will help. Half the stacking limit for the US player and allow only one Indian unit (plus leader) per hex. I have never tried this so I have no idea if this will work well or not.

But before you try any of these, sit back a reexamine your tactics, especially from the Indian point of view. If you are trying to melee with the Indians against US units that are not reduced, low ammo, or routed then you need to stop and change your tactics. If you are not using self rout then you should study how to use this tactic often to avoid melee and casualties. The Indian player should never accept melee if it is avoidable (cannot self rout away due to terrain, etc.); he should be the one initiating it.

If you try these out I think you find it becomes a much different game, and hopefully one you will enjoy!
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David Allen
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Hi Mike,

Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned reply.

Your claim of "difficult to master buy easy to play" makes very much sense to me. My expectations were probably skewed by an online video review that called it an easy game, and perhaps by the Complexity rating on the box. I expected something simpler, and (although I've been gaming for nearly 50 years), I was a bit taken aback by the relatively high (IMHO) complexity.

I also struggled with tactics, and I am sure didn't experiment as much as I should have to give the game a fair chance.

Much of what you suggest crossed my mind while playing the few turns of the game I managed to get through. I like the idea of stack limits (two units for US and one for Indian), and I will give that and the off-map option both.

By the way, I found the hex where I left my car and took a brief walk last October on the battlefield!

Also, I own the Little Bighorn game as well and look forward to giving that a try.

Thanks again for your helpful suggestions!

Regards,

Dave
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Mike Taylor
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Thanks very much for having an open mind and giving it one more try. I really can't ask for anything more from a player. If you still run into some issues please feel free to post your comments here, and I'll try my best to answer them.

Rosebud was a tactical draw but a strategic win for the Indians. You can win the game the same way, with few casualties and the US player running low on ammo. If the US player elects to defend in a tight and concentrated formation you can still win if some of his units are low ammo.

It may sound weird that a side can win in such a way. That was how this one ended, and the game will allow the Indian player to win like that as well. Avoid melee against any stacked US hex, unless it is low ammo and in a poor morale state, and even then be very selective.

Once the Indian player gains the lead the US player will have to attack, and that will force him to spread out his units. If the Indian player stays mobile and elusive he can wait for a mistake or an exposed and isolated unit to pick off. Then it is back to running around some more! That mistake may come quick, may take a while, or never come at all. As long as you have the lead he will have to chase you.

It's all easier said than done! That's the hard part. You have to be able to pick the right spot and time to run in a draw fire. It may take a while, so be patient. The Indian side is much tougher to play. It will take a few games to figure out the tactics. Touch and finesse, not brute force, is about 99% of it.


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