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Rich K
United States
St. Petersburg
Florida
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Bobby Lee: The Civil War in Virginia 1861-1865

Let’s start from the beginning.

The goodies:

Well, the goodies in this game consists of wooden blocks with colored stickers (you put the stickers on yourself), which denote the different units in the game. The usual suspects are all accounted for; HQ's, Infantry, Cavalry, Garrison Infantry, and Artillery (both regular and heavy artillery). The confederates also get 3 unique "1” strength units (Brigades). These can be built, but can't be increased in Combat Value beyond 1.

The map board is of a thin cardboard stock, but it is sturdy, so nothing to complain about (just don't want to get it wet, as I can see it will warp easily). The board is printed nicely, and while it's nothing outstanding, it is easy to look at, and easy to tell at a glance where the cities and towns are. The Union owned cities are blue, while the Confederate cities are red. A nice touch is the cities and towns are printed both ways (Union facing the left of the board, Confederate facing the right), so that neither player has to read their city names upside down. A small detail, but one that does show the company took extra time. You have your standard turn indicators (month, year, battle phase), as well as multiple data charts also on the board. The 1 nitpick that I will bring up is on the Unit Data chart. The instruction book explains the combat values as "F1, F2, and F3", while the Unit chart on the map board has those values as "SF, DF, and TF". It didn't take long to figure out that "SF was F1" and so on, but it could have been consistent.

Also included in the box are two Battle Boards. These are smaller boards which are made out of the same material as the main map board, and denote both sides of the battle lines with the Reserve, Left, Center, and Right Flanks. It’s a nice touch that they included these, as with other Civil War games I’ve played (*cough* Eagle *cough*), I’ve had to print them out myself. You also get two Order of Battle cards, one for each side, and last but not least an 18 page (counting the back cover) manual and 4 dice.


The Main Course:

This, of course, is the actual game play. First, I would like to say I like the use of the wooden blocks. You are able to have those standing up with their backs toward your opponent, ‘ala Stratego, so they can never be sure just how strong your force is. It’s easy to bluff your opponent into thinking you have a much larger force, and make him allocate units in areas he really doesn’t need to. Unit strength, or Combat Value (CV), is indicated by turning the blocks. They are printed with numbers around the outside of the unit symbol so all you have to do is “give ‘em a turn” when you wish to increase CV, or in the unfortunate event of taking damage in battle. It’s a far site better than having to “flip” over flat counters, or insert “step” counters under your units. All of you who played old Avalon Hill and Victory “Bookcase” games know what I’m talking about. The units themselves are not very colorful, nor are they attractive (like a new Avalon Hill or Eagle Games would be), but just include your basic symbols. That doesn’t bother me much, since I was brought up on the aforementioned “Bookcase” games, in which those were pretty standard.

The beginning of the turn, each player bids for initiative by placing a die on a number corresponding to the number of HQs the player will activate. The player winning the initiative has to activate that number of HQs; no more, no less. After this, the turns alternate with each player activating as many HQs as they wish. The turn ends when both players pass (do not activate any HQs), and the month is advanced.

Once a HQ is activated, it’s reduced one step, and it can move all units within its command range, with the exception of the “USA” and “CSA” HQs, which conduct “strategic movement” (units anywhere on the board can be moved by these HQs, up to a certain number). The Union has command ranges of 1 until March of 1864, when the Army of the Potomac increases to 2 (arrival of Grant). The Confederates have ranges of 2, until June 1862 (arrival of Lee), when the Army of Northern Virginia increases to 3. All other HQs for both sides remain with the same command ranges for the duration.

Movement depends on the unit type and the weather, which can be dry or mud. Summer is dry, while winter is mud, with November and April determined by a die roll. All in all, I would say that I like the way the game flows movement wise. There are hex “stacking” limits imposed by having to account for supply lines, as well as foraging when there is no supply line. This means that it’s not possible for the Union to build up a massive force and just send everyone rampaging south toward Richmond. They have to keep their supply lines in tact; otherwise units caught in excess of the hex limits lose 1 CV, and that’s checked every month. Yes Virginia, there is a use for the Calvary! It only takes one hex break in the supply line to disrupt all hexes after that. A small Calvary force is just right for this job, as you have to keep 1 unit in each hex of your supply line for it be counted.

At the end of each turn, Replacement Points (RP) is tallied, with each side getting a set number per year. As you would guess, the Union receives more points. It’s not all good news for the Union though, as it costs 1 more RP for them to increase the CV of HQs (which they expend to activate), and 2 more to rebuild a HQ. This may be seen as “The game giveth, and the game taketh away”, but I see it as the Confederates having better command in general. In reality, it took allot for the Union Commanders to get moving, even though they had a definite manpower advantage, and this is reflected in a higher cost to activate the HQs.

Battles are fought on the aforementioned Battle Boards. Each side places its units on the board, with the defender placing first. What I like about the system in Bobby Lee is the attacker can’t just bring in a HUGH stack of counters right away. Oh no, they have to adhere to hexside limits, which dictate how many units can move into battle from each hex. Since you have a command radius, it’s possible to move into a hex from two or more surrounding hexes. This gives an immediate advantage to the defender, who most times will have a numerical advantage early in the day. Each battle day is broken down into 4 parts (Dawn, Morning, Afternoon, and Evening followed by a night turn). At the end of each player’s battle phase, they can bring in reinforcements from adjacent hexes, also adhering to hexside limits, which for reinforcements are half the number for the attacking limits (in most cases). In this way a small skirmish can become a major engagement. If the defender does not retreat before, or during, the night turn, the attacker may wish to spend another of the HQs points and remain another day.

Victory points are earned for both sides through the occupation of certain towns and cities, while the Confederates will earn points simply by staying in the game, as every other month will earn a VP for the Confederate side, but only during summer months. Once the VP marker enters the “decisive victory” square, its game over.


Summary

This was just a basic overview of the game and mechanics. There are other rules and additions which further flavor the game (Emancipation, Drafts, Force Marching, etc.), but are no more complicated than what I’ve written about here. It took a few times playing until I was comfortable with the game mechanic and could understand how everything operated and related to each other. It was after this that the game really shined. It’s nowhere near a “simulation” of the American Civil War. It does present a glimpse of the strategic picture of the Eastern Theater during the war, and it does it in a way that’s fun. It has taken on average a bit over an hour per game year, with each year taken as a separate scenario. If you’re looking to play the entire war through, prepare for a long game. This is slightly more in depth than Eagle Games “American Civil War”, and not much harder to learn, but has more flexibility, and overall, plays better, at least in my humble opinion.


Ratings

• Goodies: 7
No “wow” factor, but points for extra effort on the map board, and including 2 “battle boards”.

• Game Play (how does it actually play?): 9
Very smooth play, and the sides are balanced, but I can see where it would seem that it’s slanted toward the Confederates with VP earned just sitting still. This reflects the pressure Washington had on it to “Get to Richmond”. Game mechanics are not “forced” but feel natural, and make sense.

• Execution (did it deliver what it set out to do?): 9
This is not a complex simulation of the Civil War, but it didn’t set out to be. There are some simplifications that a few of the “experts” may not like, but Monopoly never set out to be a training tool for realtors either. So, did Tom Dalgliesh deliver what was intended? In my opinion, yes he did. Too many games try to be more than they are, but Bobby Lee is comfortable in being just what it is; mid-level Civil War game which is meant to be played and not studied.

Aftertaste (do I feel I’ve wasted my time, or am I ready to jump in again?): 8
When I’m done, I look forward to when I can pick it back up again.

Overall Score: 8.5
This review is based on 6 “play-throughs”.

Rich Kuffler
Lifetime Gamer
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Ronald Bashian
United States
Arlington
Virginia
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Bobby Lee
I've had Bobby Lee in the past, and was thinking of getting another copy myself. It is, in my opinion, one of the best crafted mid-level Civil War games. Your 2005 review is very nicely done.

Does your review reflect a solitaire review (which seems to be my lot)?

Or, do you have any suggstions or systems for solitaire play?

Thanks very much.


Ron Bashian
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Gary Selkirk
Canada
Truro
Nova Scotia
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Stand by for a refit of SAM GRANT to fit perfectly with this game.
 
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