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Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861» Forums » Reviews

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alex w
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I’m an ASL fan. I like games from GMT and cherish memorable battles from Avalon Hill’s fine line of wargames of yesteryears. Games old and new that I enjoy playing at leisure includes Empire of the Sun, Here I Stand, Russian Front, Third Reich, House Divided and of course, Gettysburg 88. Then I came across Test of Fire from an online store, ordered it immediately without a second thought of who designed it, or what this game was all about and here I have it on my table this very evening, playing my first game with my son.

This is a short review to give gamers a quick read to decide if Test of Fire is your cup of tea, before you jump into it blindly like me.

Test of Fire (ToF) The First Battle of Bull Run is designed by Martin Wallace from Mayfair Games. From the box to the Rulebook, there was no mention that this is a simulation of that battle or even a wargame. Thus besides the theme being set on that faithful day of 1861, IMO this game is probably better defined as a Strategy game instead.

The Components

The Rulebook

One of the shortest rules I have read, even by eurogame standards. Take away the introduction, the setup page, the short history of the battle and the card description section, and what you have is 5 pages of rules in B4 format with large fonts and a single page of optional rules. 10 minute through the rules and you are ready to play.

I agree, the first few turns will require some rulebook flipping, since each player takes about 2 minutes to play their own actions ...I can very well live with that quick flipping.


The Mapboard

A very beautifully drawn map with the land divided into areas for movement and battle. A road (Warrenton Turnpike) runs diagonally to Centreville and Bull Run cutting across the map from east to west. Setup of the game was greatly assisted by small icons printed on starting areas. Printed on the boundary lines are numbers which indicate the number of units that may move across that boundary to an adjacent area.

There are 3 areas along the Confederate side of Bull Run that has a star printed on them, these are the VP areas and begin the game in Confederate control. Centreville is Union controlled. Manassas Station is controlled by the Confederates.


The Counters

There are no numbers on the combat units. A picture of a Union/Confederate soldier represents an Infantry unit. An Artillery piece represents an Artillery unit. A portrait of a General represents your only Commander in the game. At the back of the soldier counters are a similar picture with a light upper border to denote ‘step-loss’. Artillery and General units do not have such step losses, but they do count as a ‘counter’ for movement.


The Cards

The cards are printed in light cardstock with image-sketches of civil war actions. Not exactly beautiful but does mimic drawing styles of those times. These cards assist the players in the game, like giving extra dice to roll in combat or making that extra move. This is not a card-driven wargame though.


The Game in a nutshell

(A) Rolling of Dice for actions

Confederate rolls 3 dice at the beginning of their turn, Union player rolls 4 dice.

Each die rolled lets you play one of these actions :

[1] MUST Draw a card

[2] and [3] Fire your Artillery

[4] and [5] Move up to 3 units from one area to another adjacent area. (depends on the boundary limit)

[6] Either (a) Draw a Card, OR (b) Fire your Artillery (area where your leader is present), OR (c) Move up to 3 units (where your leader is present at the start of that move)

You may do any of these actions in any order. Fire Artillery, draw a card then move; OR Draw a card, move/battle than Fire your Artillery. You may move and declare combat in 1 area before selecting another die/action, or do all your movements before battle begins in 1 area (thus you can bring in units from all adjacent areas into an enemy area for 1 big battle!).


(B) The combat

(1) If you move into an area containing enemy Infantry unit, a battle begins. 2 dice are rolled per infantry unit in that battle, up to a maximum of 6 dice per side (units or card assisted). Defenders rolls first, casualties are taken BEFORE attackers roll their dice and casualties taken. If any defender remains, the attacker has lost the battle and all attacking units must retreat back to where they came from. If the defenders have been eliminated or forced to retreat the attacker stays in this new area.

Every 5 or 6 rolled is a hit. FROM these hits, roll again. For each 1 to 3, one enemy unit retreats to an adjacent area; 4 to 6 would cause an enemy unit to take a step-loss and flips the unit from front to back (a second hit on a unit will eliminate it)

Artillery and generals do not roll any dice in combat.

(2) The artillery fires with 1 die (per fire action) against 1 adjacent enemy occupied area. Again 5 and 6 are hits. Second roll of 6 causes casualties, while 1 to 5 causes a retreat result.


(C) Other rules

(1) Cards can be played anytime it fits the circumstance. Play as much as you want per turn.

(2) If an Infantry unit enters an area with only an enemy Artillery unit and/or a General, the Artillery/General unit must immediately retreat to an area with friendly infantry unit present.


(D) Winning (or Ending the game)

(1) If the Confederates control Centreville, the Confederates Wins.

(2) if the Union controls Manassas Station, Union Wins.

(3) If either deck finishes first and a ‘1’ is rolled in subsequent turns by that player.(Unable to draw another card due to their deck being empty) Than the winner is the side controlling the most VP areas (Star areas).

(4) The player plays a ‘Rout’ Card and rolls 2 dice. If the total is less than or equal to the number of enemy units eliminated at that point in the game, the player wins regardless of board situation. (kind of like a sudden death victory condition)


What I think about the game

(1) There are some enquiries to the rules, like stacking limit, multiple moves of units, and rules on retreat priority. If the rules never state it, I would assume it could be done.

(2) There is no ‘2’ printed on those empty boundaries to assist in movement limits.

(3) What happens when there are no Infantry unit left to take step loss except the Artillery or the General in the battle? (or for that matter, in an Artillery barrage?)

(4) Why do the Artillery units ‘run/retreat’ so easily when a battle is lost? It seems there are difficulties in ‘killing’ the Artillery unit, except by ‘running it out of the board’?

(5) Not the first time I play with games without firepower factors or movement factors. Axis and Allies, Diplomacy and Britannia come to mind. But such a nice big counter with just 1 infantry men printed on it seemed just a waste.

Enough of nick-pick!

So.......It’s a love and hate game for me, that’s how I felt about it.

I like the part of quick setup and play. It has a simple and beautiful streamlined game play ‘system’ that is easily understood by any type of gamer of any age.

It’s not like Command and Colours: Ancients where infantry are 4 to a unit. It’s not like Battles for Westeros where colour dice rolled is important. It’s not like Battle Cry where the cards allow you to make your move. It felt like a combination of ‘everything in-between’ these games. Which actually make this game very unique in its own way.

I like this refreshing feel of a simple ‘war-ish’ game that is both enjoyable and yet simple enough for my 6 year old son. (reminds me of Gettysburg 88).


Now the Hate part.............

It plays so war-ishly that I felt the rules were not complete. It felt so simple that I wanted to ‘improve’ the game with some house rules, but yet it’s beauty lies in its simplicity. (Something I hate to change)

Is this a Eurogame that I’ve misinterpreted as a wargame? Maybe??!!??........but now I would want to play ‘Bull Run’ (from AH) again, just to ‘complete’ a picture in my mind.


ARRGH! Struggling in my mind of what to think about this game. (Like ‘Two-Face’ in a Batman movie) I’ll flip a ‘coin’........rating this 7.5......for now.
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Scott Roberts
United States
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Nice review and appreciate the description of the rules.
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Ubergeek
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Washougal
Washington
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Quote:
Is this a Eurogame that I’ve misinterpreted as a wargame?

This game certainly qualifies as a Warro.
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David J Schaffner
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alexisW wrote:
It’s not like Command and Colours: Ancients where infantry are 4 to a unit. It’s not like Battles for Westeros where colour dice rolled is important. It’s not like Battle Cry where the cards allow you to make your move. It felt like a combination of ‘everything in-between’ these games. Which actually make this game very unique in its own way.

I introduced the game at the local C&C Meetup group this past Sunday, because I thought it would be right down their alley. I think the game feels familar but new all at the same time.

Definitely want the game to spawn into a series, and so feel forgiving now that the rules aren't as clear as they could be.

Anyway, Excellent review Alex! thumbsup
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alex w
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After 6 games, it's really exciting and fast. However, the single scenario makes this game replayability rather low. There are some strategy depending on how your opponent plays (dice outcome too play a big part)

Have you seen an artillery barrage! Fantastic effect both psychologically and on the game board!

Excellent intro for eurogamers indeed.
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
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I really enjoy your focus in the review. It gives me a clear picture of what the game is like.

Good job!
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