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Subject: A5A: Gettysburg, Eric's Take on the Battle. rss

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Sim Guy
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Across 5 Aprils: Gettysburg

As is my custom, I took the week of the Fourth of July off to play some golf, and indulge my indoor vice as well – not that one, the other one; wargaming. This year with all of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (American) attention, I decided to see how many games on the Battle of Gettysburg I could play during my week-long sabbatical. For obvious reasons I didn't go for any of the really big ones, and I stacked the list a little bit to get in some of my favorites.

The version in the Across 5 Aprils, five game set, may be my favorite game of the bunch, at least of those that covered the entire battle. Eric Smith, late of SPI, started out experimenting with Cemetery Hill from the original Blue and Gray Quad, working on new game mechanics. Among other ideas, he tried chit pull activation, step reduction, and resizing the units (essentially Brigades) – all of which are incorporated into A5A. The result was a genuine gem of a game; easy to learn, easy and relatively quick to play, good looking, and with enough detail to satisfy even hard core gamers who are used to rulebooks that weigh in pounds.

An added bonus for mostly solo gamers like myself, is that the chit pull activation makes the games easier to play solitaire without special rules. This was probably my most enjoyable game of the week, and I find myself already wanting to pull it out and try it again.

So let's get started.

Turn 1&2: Unlike many Gettysburg games which start at the moment of contact between the armies. We start with four Units of Union Cavalry on the map, and the vanguard of Heth's Division entering the map on the Chambersburg Pike. Buford's boys pick out their spots and watch the Rebels come on.

Turn 3: More troops for both sides; more of A.P. Hill's Corps up the Chambersburg Pike, while the Union I and XII Corps head toward Gettysburg on the Emmittsburg Road. Heth's men come under fire as they make a run at the ford and bridge across Willoughby's Run. Buford's Cavalry stand fast, while Reynolds moves his Corps into line along McPherson's Ridge. The dismounted Cavalry breaks cover and fires the first shots of the battle – and take the first casualties as the horsemen blocking the ford are easily swept aside by the Rebels. Pettigrew's Brigades force the bridge and it looks like a tough start for the Federals.


Turn 4: But not so fast – Pettigrew's men seem somewhat surprised by their success and as they are trying to get organized on the East bank, the Yankees slap them back. Even so, fresh troops under Pender check the Cavalrymen and push over the creek before the Union can press their advantage.
The battle shifts to McPherson' Ridge where the Union is making the Rebels pay dearly for every foot.


Turn 5: Noon. The Confederate push over Willoughby's run continues. Heth's men move up Oak Hill only to be turned back by a few companies of Federal troops, only barely beating them to the summit. A bloody fight along the railroad cut and McPherson's farm pushes back the Rebels, with heavy losses on both sides.

Turn 6: Rodes' Division is the first of Ewell's Corps coming down from the North to make an appearance and cause the Union some problems. They roll over the last of Buford' Cavalry and open a clear road to Gettysburg proper as Heth's men finally take Oak Hill. Momentarily short of forces, the Union goes onto the defensive.

Game time comment: I felt bad at the time about making this move once I did it. This feels like a bad move for the Union, just throwing troops into Rodes' way. But I felt like I should make some sort of effort to slow Rodes down in front of Gettysburg, rather than just meekly fall back onto Cemetery Ridge.
20/20 hindsight: It turned out to be a decent move as the III Corps bought almost two turns for the Union troops entering the map, and solidified the Cemetery Hill position.

Turn 7: Early has moved up and so the entire weight of Ewell's Corps falls on the Union right – without much to show for it, as the Union basically maintains separation and holds the Rebels back with harassing Artillery fire.

Turn 8: The Union falls back on Gettysburg as the XII Corps moves up to take possession of Cemetery Hill. The Rebels are hot on the Federal's heels and rush toward the town as the Union line gives way.


Turn 9: More reinforcements for both sides as the armies concentrate throughout the day. Hill's Corps gathers itself and assaults along Seminary Ridge forcing a Union withdrawal.

Turn 10: The Union falls back all along the line with the Rebels in hot pursuit. The Union I Corps is holding onto its end of Seminary Ridge but as the Southerner's move around their left, they know they can't stay much longer.


Turn 11: It's getting a little gloomy out there, maybe there's time enough for one more attack before night comes. But it is not to be; the weary Southerners are about spent, and after finally securing the Lutheran Seminary, they didn't have enough left in them to clear the town. No matter, however, as the Federals leave of their own accord.

The first Victory Determination Phase at nightfall on Day 1, finds the Rebels without having secured any of their Objective Hexes. Had they done so, and with the losses they inficted on this first turn, the Rebels would have won an instant victory. As it is, they are nowhere close to any of their objectives, and so the game will go on.

Turn 12 & 13: The darkness puts a stop to the fighting, but not to the work. Every soldier, not manning a guard post, takes up a shovel or an axe and sets to digging in. Sometime during the night Longstreet's Corps shuffles into the line, causing it to inch to the left in preparation for tomorrow's attacks. The Union welcomes Hancock's II Corps and send them toward Devil's Den and the rough ground on the Union left.


End of Day 1


The Situation as Day 2 dawns: The Union is dug in in force on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge, South of town. I Corps is dug in on a spur of Seminary Ridge, staring across at Hill's men also dug in on McPherson's Ridge. Two more Union Corps, the II and V, are coming down the Taneytown Road and the Baltimore Pike, respectively.
The Southerners are lined up along McPherson's Ridge and aim to push the I Corps boys off their perch and back to the main Union line. Longstreet is busy getting his troops on line and is positioning for an eventual attack at the gap between Cemetery Ridge and Devil's Den, while A.P. Hill's men hold the center. No charging up Little Round Top, or a go at 'The Clump of Trees' this time. Even so, there is a tough fight ahead for the Rebels if they expect to stay on the offensive. Most of the Confederate army is on the field, and the odds will never be better. I think that the South has one decent shot at this fight, but it's got to go right, and there's a lot that can go wrong.


I know I speak for a lot of solo gamers when I say that 'now comes the hard part'. I'm at the point in the fight where, as the Rebel aggressor, I've got to make some decisions that will have far reaching consequences. What do I attack, where, and when, or at all? Or should I go over to a defensive battle and let the Union do the dirty work of digging me out. The plain fact is that I am incapable of surprising my opponent (the bastard knows me too well), and we both have perfect intelligence. I'm at that point where I have to start paying more attention to the victory conditions and hope that the game designer knew his history. If so, the game will compel me to act in a more or less historical fashion with respect to the goals of the campaign.
I've often thought that victory conditions, written mainly for face to face games, where there is a greater element of uncertainty as to your opponents intentions, should be modified for the conditions of solo play to allow for the lack of guesswork by the 'opponents'. Generally when I'm playing solo I tend to ignore the written victory conditions and play out the game according to my knowledge of the situation – it usually gives me what I want out of the game, and that's all that really matters. After all, I don't keep score against myself.
At this point, the victory point tally is South:33 North: 25, or 1.32:1. Not exactly overwhelming for the South, but it would have been enough to win, with possession of even one Objective Hex. Too bad.
So the sun rises over two armies who aren't going anywhere else today.


Turn 14: As luck would have it, both Combat Phase chits are drawn to start the turn. The Rebels take advantage of the ensuing pause to continue shifting Longstreet into position, and massing a grand battery of Artillery in the left center of their line, targeting Seminary Ridge. Longstreet's men get tangled up with Hill's and it takes a little more precious time to get them sorted out. In the meantime, Hancock moves his II Corps into a thin defensive line in the gap, that is Longstreet's target. Ewell demonstrates on the Confederate left, but can't entice the Federals to leave their positions.


Turn 15: Hill and Longstreet's boys are doing a good job of clearing the Union I Corps from Seminary Ridge. A massive assault on the Federal positions on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge is easily repulsed. The attack was about the best the Rebels could put together and went nowhere. Lee and Ewell will need to rethink their strategy on the dug-in Yankees. Meanwhile the Union right keeps getting stronger. Longstreet is taking too long getting into position for his attack.


Turn 16: The fight continues on the South end of Seminary Ridge; the Confederates finally clear the last of I Corps from the woods and hills. While the Rebels pause to reorganize, the Union moves to strengthen its line for the expected assaults.

The battle looks very historical at this point.

Turn 17: The Union is in a very strong defensive position all along their line. The historic 'Fishhook' is taking shape on the major features. The Confederates aren't going to be lured into another 'Pickett's Charge'; they are looking to take advantage of their own defensive terrain and try to free up some troops for some late attacks. Also, the game is more that half over, and I'm starting to note the locations of Objective Hexes, which will be important later. With an inkling of a strategy in mind, Longstreet, quickly gets his men back up and moves again to the right.

Turn 18:
Quiet, as the troops are repositioning themselves on both sides. Only the occasional Artillery shot to break the silence.

Turn 19: More maneuvering. For the most part, the Union is content to wait in their defenses and let the Confederates make their moves. The Rebels are getting set, but the men are tired and it's taking a long time.

Turn 20: The last units of both armies finally make it onto the map. Pickett is rushing to catch the rest of Longstreet's Corps, who are almost in position to strike at Hancock, holding the Union left. Sedgewick's VI Corps is working its way North, on the East side of Rock Creek, threatening Ewell's flank.


Turn 21: Hancock's men are a little shaky on first contact with the Southerners, and fall back in front of Longstreet, though the Southerners are unable to follow up immediately. Sedgewick continues his advance on the Rock Creek bridges, and there is some Union activity on Culp's Hill, which is worrying Ewell on the Rebel left.


Turn 22: It's come to this; Longstreet has the strength to keep the Objective Hexes on the right out of Union hands. But Ewell must make an attempt to gain some of the Confederate Objective Hexes from the Union on the left in order to have a chance to win a victory on this day. The odds are only fair, as the sun sinks towards the horizon.
The last of Longstreet's forces are joined in battle on the Southern end of McPherson's Ridge but it's slow going. Ewell gathered forces and massed about half of his Artillery in a successful attempt to gain a toehold on Cemetery Hill. It's clear that it will only be temporary however, as the attack losses momentum and Ewell will have to respond to the Yankees coming down from Culp's Hill, and Sedgewick's Corps from across Red Creek.
Night falls and is all that puts an end to the fighting at both ends of the line. Commanders on both sides solemnly puff their cigars as the maps are pulled out and the reports come in from the field.

This was an error that I didn't realize until after the turn. I had thought that the Rebels could win an early victory if they took at least one of their Objective Hexes and led in victory points after the second day. This was not the case as the Objectives did not enter into it at this point, and the other conditions had not been met. I had put together a fairly risky attack and got lucky, but now I had a couple of Brigades that were going to be in big trouble, and a flank that was about to get pounded – so not really such a great move. As the Victory tally below will show.

Paused to do a victory assessment at this point:
Confederate: Objectives Taken – 1 (+6) Casualties Inflicted – 50 Total VPs: 56
Union: Objectives Taken – 3 (+15) Casualties Inflicted – 38 Total VPs: 53

If the game ended at this point we would be looking at a Marginal Confederate victory.
But these totals do not meet the early Victory Conditions, so Day 3 is in order.

But this is the point where I called it off. I see no reason to continue further, and I shall explain.
Victory Points are almost equal, with troop losses accounting for CSA 38 / USA 50. Not bad for the South, but certainly not a winning ratio, considering the respective manpower pools.
The way I envision the battle going from here: Longstreet will eventually clear the South end of McPherson's Ridge, costing the Union their three Objective Hexes, but that would be about all.
Once Sedgewick's VI Corps (across Rock Creek) and Slocum's XII Corps (coming down from Culp's Hill), both practically fresh, hit the Confederate left, the line will fall back, give up Gettysburg, and take up defensive positions on Seminary Ridge and Oak Hill. The Confederate line will then be in good defensive shape, though much weaker in numbers and thus very brittle. But this will also be very late in the game and the Union may not have time to mount an effective attack. Here the game may end as scheduled.

However, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the Confederates will lose their sole Objective Hex, and the best result they can achieve without it, is a draw. So not a whole lot of incentive for the Confederate player to continue. The Union will gain back two Objectives, and if they wish to bring more forces to bear, can probably take another two or three in the rugged areas on their left. With the burden of attack, the Union is likely to incur more losses than the Rebels, so they will have to be careful with their men, just as they need to be aggressive. Just by chasing Ewell away from Gettysburg and holding their ground, the Union will win. Unless something unexpected happens.

And here is one of the pitfalls of solo play, I'm not likely to surprise my opponent, and the dice will even out the uncertainty, so the odds of something extraordinary happening are very low. As this battle is mainly driven by the initiatives of the Confederate commander, who knows by now that he can not win the fight, it's only his fight to lose. As Lee, I see that almost half of my units are in rough shape and that to stay, even in a defensive battle, would court disaster. Night is falling and I see an opportunity to disengage with my army still intact. I'll take it.

Besides, my gaming time these days is very limited and I'd rather not take my time up, playing a game that is essentially finished.

NOTE: The unpredictability of the chit pull method effectively reflects the uncertainty and chancy nature of battle, especially where the pull of the Combat Phase chits are concerned. You can never absolutely count on everyone you want to be in a fight to make it in time, sometimes your men are ready to attack, but the enemy gets to attack first, or is able to slip away from your perfect plan before you can pull the trigger. It provides a 'fog of war effect' without taking over the game. It is one of my favorite features in games like this.
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Judy Krauss
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SimGuy wrote:

NOTE: The unpredictability of the chit pull method effectively reflects the uncertainty and chancy nature of battle, especially where the pull of the Combat Phase chits are concerned. You can never absolutely count on everyone you want to be in a fight to make it in time, sometimes your men are ready to attack, but the enemy gets to attack first, or is able to slip away from your perfect plan before you can pull the trigger. It provides a 'fog of war effect' without taking over the game. It is one of my favorite features in games like this.


Or, as happened to me once, only your cavalry unit, which you sent to flank the enemy, has gotten into position when the fighting begins. All your other units get to watch as it gets slaughtered.
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Stephen Oliver
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Great AAR

Gettysburg is the only A5A scenario I have not made into a VASSAL. I have other Vassals I am working on right now but possibly with enough interest I will make the Gettysburg Vassal (plus put out my A5A 2ND BULL RUN vassal that has been nearly complete for some six months now)

Thanks again for the great game.
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Michael Lavoie
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I really like this game and will probably be playing the Bull Run scenario this week on the 150th anniversary of the battle. The game plays quickly and offers just enough detail to hold my interest. The chit-pull system makes it work quite well solo, as you mention. Thanks for the report!
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Sim Guy
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Jude wrote:
SimGuy wrote:

NOTE: The unpredictability of the chit pull method effectively reflects the uncertainty and chancy nature of battle, especially where the pull of the Combat Phase chits are concerned. You can never absolutely count on everyone you want to be in a fight to make it in time, sometimes your men are ready to attack, but the enemy gets to attack first, or is able to slip away from your perfect plan before you can pull the trigger. It provides a 'fog of war effect' without taking over the game. It is one of my favorite features in games like this.


Or, as happened to me once, only your cavalry unit, which you sent to flank the enemy, has gotten into position when the fighting begins. All your other units get to watch as it gets slaughtered.


Which brings up another nice feature, that got a lot of use in the game: the 'Voluntary Retreat'.
 
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Steve Bishop
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Great AAR thanks for posting.

I really wanted to like this game for all the reasons you put forward, but oh how that combat chit spoiled it
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Kim Meints
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Another Great AAR as was your Cemetary Hill report.

The chit pull provides the great fog of war and uncertainty when solo playing which is the only way I game.
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John O'Haver PhoDOGrapher
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I really liked this game system. I only traded it away when setup got too difficult due to trying to read the location ID numbers on the units and especially in the hexes. I tell ya publishers need to quit using type faces that shrink over time,
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Jeffrey D Myers
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Scrib, you just need to harvest more eyes!
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Sim Guy
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bishuk wrote:
I really wanted to like this game for all the reasons you put forward, but oh how that combat chit spoiled it


It can be downright frustrating, doubly so when you're playing both sides.
It's almost like your subordinate ignored your orders. angry
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Bob Roberts

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Snowdash wrote:
Great AAR

Gettysburg is the only A5A scenario I have not made into a VASSAL. I have other Vassals I am working on right now but possibly with enough interest I will make the Gettysburg Vassal (plus put out my A5A 2ND BULL RUN vassal that has been nearly complete for some six months now)

Thanks again for the great game.


Consider me interested
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Eric Smith
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Nice replay!

I too would have stopped, and Lee in the same situation might have too.

Thanks for the effort that went into this report and the kind words about my game.

Cheers,

Eric
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