Rough Riders was designed by Randy Moorehead and published via Simulations Workshop in 1996. It is playable by 2 players (or solo) in about ninety minutes.
What You Get
Rough Riders comes in the standard DTP quality one expects from Simulations Workshop. The map is a single foldout sheet done in color, color counters you have to cut yourself, two player aid cards on semi-stiff cardboard and a couple mats to hold some game markers and another displaying the setup forces. Nothing spectacular as far as components, but quite serviceable. The counters are quite thin, and picking them up can be a challenge.
What You Do
The game simulates the Battle for San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898 during the Spanish-American war. One player assumes the role of the Spanish forces under Major LaMadrid, the other the US forces under Kent and Sumner. If playing solo, you play the US forces. There are a couple scenarios, including a ‘what if’ Manzanillo scenario which strengthens the Spanish quite a lot.
Game play is over 12 turns, each turn being about 45 minutes in the battle. The turn is played in a series of phases, all of which are first completed by the US followed by the Spanish. First there is the Command and Reserve phase. All units are checked to be in command range, as those that are not are limited in their movement during the turn. A roll is made to see if the reserves are committed from off-map and enter play. In particular, after the 7th turn the Spanish have an increased chance of getting reserves, or extra ammunition for their cannon.
The second phase is movement. There are various forms of terrain that affect movement, which is done on the hex map. For the most part the map is quite clear, so that makes things easier. After movement, all defensive units with line of sight get a chance to fire. 2d6 are rolled, modified by terrain and firepower modified by range. Hits are assessed as step losses: the US troops generally have four steps while the Spanish have but two. Hits reduce both characteristics of the counter: firepower and morale. When the number of steps has been matched by step losses, the unit is removed. There can be a bit of clutter as all the hits are marked with little crosses indicating damage. Fortunately, stacking is restricted to really only 3 max counters/hex, so at least that helps. In addition, every time a unit takes hits and ha=s a leader in the stack, an extra 2d6 roll is made to check for leader casualties: a 2,11 or 12 results in the death of a leader. It is through this mechanism that Teddy Roosevelt can come to the fore and take command. He’s a charismatic leader, and tougher to kill for, as the author put it, he seemed bulletproof that day. That didn’t prevent me from having him killed in his first action in my game, but that’s another story.
After all defensive fire, the player on the offense can roll for his hits. Then in the next phase, units may assault adjacent enemy units if they so declared assault in the movement phase. If this was neglected, the rules state that due to command confusion, it is not possible to retroactively declare an assault, so stay awake! Assault is essentially comparing the strengths of the adjacent units modified by commanders present and the group with the higher morale gains an extra +1. To this a d6 is added, and the totals compared with the loser taking a hit and are forced to retreat 2 hexes while the winner occupies the vacated space. Finally, there is a rally phase as leaders try to removed pinned markers or disruptions caused by combat.
Scoring is accomplished by inflicting damage on the opponent and taking out leaders. The US forces have another, entertaining way to score. They have 2 ‘journalist’ units. The US forces can score extra points for heroic actions like the first successful assault of a Spanish unit, or achieving the San Juan blockhouse, but only if the journalist is in a position to ‘see’ the activity, so must be no more than 4 hexes away. Of course, the Spanish score extra points for taking out journalists, so it makes for an entertaining ‘sideshow’. There are other goofy units like the US observation balloon to keep the US cannons on target, and so forth. Great history and flavor added by these extras.
To win the US must score more points AND been last to occupy a strategic point on Kettle Hill AND have total control of San Juan Hill by the end of turn 12. If our game was any indication, that is a really tall order.
What I Think
I really enjoyed playing this game on a rarely-gamed battle. I learned a lot of history playing the game, and reading the entertaining designer notes about the battle. There were some ambiguities in the rules, and we had to make a lot of ‘best guesses’ with the good of the game in mind. Line of sight was particularly uncertain as was the cover values of terrain: did the firing unit get -1 when units were in the forest on a road, or not? That type of thing. The game plays quite quickly, and you get right in the action fast as the damn Spanish sharpshooters are harassing you on the very first turn. Looking at the board, you feel its going to be a US slaughter, a cakewalk up the hill. But the Spanish a pretty well entrenched and can cause a lot of damage (and score a lot of points) as you try to get up that damned slope. I am a bit Simulations Workshop fan. The games are obviously made out a love of history and attention to detail, sometimes at the expense of clarity, but always with fun in mind. I find this well worth picking up if you like a quick wargame on a rather obscure topic.