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Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Bull Run Component Review rss

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Kent Reuber
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“Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861”, published in 2011 by Mayfair Games, is a two player simple wargame with Euro-quality components that promises to let you play the battle of First Bull Run (also called First Manassas) in 45 minutes. Because I haven’t yet played the game, I’ll review only the components. After I have a chance to play the game, I hope to be able to write a review of gameplay.

“Test of Fire” is designed by Martin Wallace. It appears to be a much simpler game than his Waterloo game (and, I presume, his Gettysburg game, which I haven’t played). Of interest in the production and development credits are the names Coleman Charlton and Peter Fenlon of Iron Crown Enterprises. While Iron Crown is most famous for its roleplaying games, they also produced a single historical wargame; that’s right—the battle of First Manassas. (Iron Crown’s game was a regimental simulation, where this game is based on units about the size of demi-brigades.)

The rules:

The rules booklet included with the game is a full color 16-page 5”x8” book. It is attractive and well laid out. The rules themselves are described on pages 1-8, with the latter pages dedicated to a historical overview of the battle. The final page gives the credits and a brief turn summary.

The board:

The board is 14”x21”, quad-folded, and made of good heavy cardboard that you would expect from a Mayfair Euro game. The board presents a map of the Bull Run battlefield from Manassas Station in the south to Centreville in the north and from the Orange & Alexandria RR crossing in the east to Sudley Ford in the west. The map is divided into a series of 30 or so areas which are used to regulate movement. Cutting the map in half is the Bull Run river, which is defended by Confederate forces on the southern side. To win, the Union army will need to force its way across, or, as they did historically, send troops across Sudley Ford to attempt to out-flank the Confederates.

Most of the borders between map areas are printed with numbers from “0” to “3”, indicating the maximum number of units that may cross the border on a single movement action. A few areas of Bull Run have “0” indicating that units cannot normally cross. Roads, on the other hand, have “3” printed on them, allowing roads to be used for easy movement of large stacks of troops. Other areas on the board have border limits of “1”, blank (the default is “2”) or a mixed “2/1” (indicating that 1 unit may cross per action if the area being entered is enemy-occupied, or 2 units per action if it is not).

Playing pieces:

The majority of the playing pieces are rectangular infantry units. These infantry units seem larger than necessary, but the unit size may be useful for indicating which border was crossed when entering a battle by laying the unit across the border between areas. (If an assault is unsuccessful, attacking units must retreat to the area where they started.) The front (undamaged) side of infantry units are in a solid gray or blue color, with the back side being printed in two colors to indicate that the unit has suffered a hit. Units which suffer two hits are destroyed. The Union forces are comprised of 29 infantry units, while the Confederates get 24. If my math is right, this works out to about 1200 men per infantry counter. Brigades at this early point in the war could be as large as 2-3000 men, so a counter could be termed (as it was called at the time) “demi-brigades”. The counters are generic, having only a “USA” or “CSA” label on them, so, it would be possible to use them for other battles if a suitable map could be made. Perhaps Mayfair and Wallace have any ambitions for expansions simulating other battles?

Other counters included are two artillery units per side (again, generically labeled as “USA” and “CSA”, but printed only on one side because they can take only a single hit before being eliminated) and three generals, which have their names and portraits imprinted. The Union side receives one general (McDowell), while the Confederates receive two generals (Beauregard and Johnston). Only one of the Confederate generals is used in the basic game; in the optional rules, the Confederates can field both generals, but one must remain within one area of Manassas Station at all times.

The game’s other major component is a deck of cards for each side: 29 cards for the Union deck, while the Confederates have a deck of 26. The decks are “stacked” to represent the events of the battle: for example, the Confederates receive “Cavalry” cards (the Union receives none) and more “Hold” cards (presumably representing “Stonewall” Jackson and their defending position, allowing units to ignore a retreat result), while the Union receives more “Move” cards (allowing more units to move on a Move action), a single “Ford” card (representing a Ford that the Union discovered during the battle), and a more advantageous number of “Artillery” cards (to simulate the potential to bombard the opponent). At the beginning of the game, each side receives a single card, but more can be drawn during player turns. The cards regulate the length of the game provided that the game doesn’t end in a sudden death condition: when one side draws their last card, the game ends at the end of the next Confederate turn.

Two Order Displays are included, again made of the same good-quality, thick cardboard used for the counters. During a player’s turn, a player will throw a number of dice (four for the Union and three for the Confederates) to determine which actions the side may carry out during the turn.

The game includes six good-quality six-sided dice for each side in appropriate blue and gray color schemes. Six dice is the maximum number that can be rolled in any one battle. However, as dice are rolled for actions and tracked on the Order Diplays, it is easily possible that six dice will not be enough for a side to both track actions and battle. A side may need to track its actions with their own dice, but roll the opponent’s dice in battle.

One thing that’s missing in this game are Combat Results Tables that the players can reference during play. The back of the rules booklet includes a turn summary, but it does not include a summary of combat. There are two different types of combat: artillery bombardments (which occur between adjacent areas, and assaults, which occur when units move into enemy-occupied areas). The combat mechanics are similar—a roll to hit with a number of dice depending on the number of units involved, then a roll for effect for each hit, which may cause damage to one enemy unit or cause one enemy unit to retreat. The number needed to hit and cause damage or retreats is different in the two cases, and it would have been nice to see a CRT provided so that you don’t have to flip through the rules. Note to Euro game publishers: wargame CRT’s are not an option; you should provide them.

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Matt Hiske
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Kentwood
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Nice review and it would be great to see more photos on this game.
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Pete Belli
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matthiske wrote:
Nice review and it would be great to see more photos on this game.


Several images have been uploaded today on BGG.
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