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Subject: Little Bighorn: a rambling and long-winded review rss

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Cpl. Fields
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Note: This review is based on multiple solitaire plays.

Battle of the Little Bighorn is Khyber Pass’s 2005 release depicting Custer’s Last Stand at a tactical level. There are not many games that attempt to tackle this battle, and for good reason. The historical action was so lopsided that no one in their right mind would want to play the US forces. Playing Custer in the historical scenario is a bit like joining a game of Russian Roulette after the fifth player has taken his turn. “So, my 600 guys are going to attack an Indian village of 1800 warriors, but first I have to split my forces into three parts and have them advance on opposite banks of a river? Sounds good to me!” Richard Berg sometimes refers to “Custer-Rorke Syndrome” – historical events that make great reading but poor gaming. Fortunately, Khyber Pass has done quite a nice job of making a game about a massacre interesting for both players, without massacring history in the process.

Components
Khyber Pass was not a major wargame publisher along the lines of GMT or MMP, and the game components reflect this.
The 17" x 22" paper map is attractive if not quite stunning, and is clear and functional. It's certainly on a par with many S&T or Command Magazine games, though not quite up to the best current standards.

The counters are mounted on thin pasteboard,
which is actually a step up from most KP games, which typically have unmounted counters that you have to cut out and mount yourself. (I usually end up gluing my fingers together, after first cutting myself with the scissors.)

The counter art is nice, with icons depicting mounted and dismounted Indians and cavalry, leaders, Indian encampments and non-combatants, horse-holders, pack trains, and the usual array of game markers. The artwork is on a par with many professionally-published games and the matte finish of the counters is a nice change from the norm. One very nice touch is that the horse colours depicted on the various companies of the 7th cavalry are historically correct (Upon rejoining the regiment after his suspension in 1868, Custer ordered that the horses be reallocated to the companies based on colour, angering many officers and men who had grown to know their animals well after months of campaigning together. It was a decision that was aesthetically pleasing but militarily unsound. None of which has anything to do with the game but this is my review and it’s a cool little factoid that you can use to impress people who are easily impressed.)

Rounding out the components are three full-colour player aids printed on thin glossy paper, some hidden unit displays for use (presumably) in the hypothetical scenario, a US ammo roster, and the rulebook. The game comes in a ziplock bag, which saves me from commenting on the box.

Scale
Each turn represents 20 minutes of real time. Map scale is not given, nor is the unit scale, but it’s presumably 1 SP = 10 for the cavalry, possibly higher for the Indians. I should note that this is a pet peeve of mine – I could work out unit and ground scales from battlefield maps and historical OBs, but I much prefer the designer to just tell me, preferably in Rule 2.0, Scale. The whole point of the exercise is to look at a cardboard chit moving across the map and know that this represents 60 troopers of Company B or 200 Hunkpapa warriors, moving 600 meters down the valley of the Little Bighorn. This is central to any wargame design – in fact, it’s usually the starting point – and it’s annoying not to have that crucial information presented.

Rules
Sequence of Play: The game turns follow a logical and easily assimilated sequence: Rally, Offensive Fire, Movement, Defensive Fire, Advance Fire (halved, and only available to units that did not fire earlier in the turn), and Melee. There are a few wrinkles: units can fire at full strength in the Fire Phase, but then cannot move, or can fire at half strength and move half their movement rate, but then cannot fire in the Advance Fire Phase, while units that move their full movement rate can still fire (halved) in the Advance Fire Phase. It can be a bit confusing at first, but after referring back to the rules several times during my first play, I think I got it right.

Movement is simple but contains one small oddity that I found hugely annoying. I was puzzled to note that units have the same movement rate – 6 for US units, 7 for Indians – on both their mounted and dismounted sides. Dismounted units move as fast as mounted ones? Then I saw on the Terrain Effects Chart that clear hexes cost 1 MP for mounted units, 2 for dismounted. Aha! Simple, right? Then why can’t I remember that? I’ve been working on an illustrated session report for this game for days, and at the end of every turn I take a picture to record the action. Then I add little arrows in Photoshop to show paths of movement, retreats and advances, firefights, etc. TWICE I got to Turn 4 before realizing that I’d been moving my dismounted warriors at the mounted rate (“General Custer – this camp is inhabited by hostile… centaurs!”) Both times I decided it was easier to set up the game and start again than to try to adjust the position of the units. Clear terrain = 1 MP. That’s intuitive. Clear terrain = 1 MP mounted, 2 MP dismounted. Not intuitive! Or is it just me? I mean, it did finally click, and now I don’t forget when I’m playing, but this strikes me as unnecessary. Give mounted units a higher movement allowance than dismounted ones, and keep the terrain costs the same – that’s just common sense, unless there’s a compelling reason to do it another way. I didn’t see the necessity here. I could be missing something.

Fire Combat is straightforward. There is ranged fire (up to two hexes for most units), which can inflict casualties or morale checks. An unmodified roll of 6 triggers a Leader casualty check. Leaders can be either killed outright or wounded, and the wounds can be either light, serious or, for US leaders, mortal. In the latter case, “mortal” shouldn’t be taken too literally. You roll a die and that’s how many turns you have to get the leader to the pack train. If you get him there, there’s a chance he’ll live. Now, this is probably an unnecessary level of detail, but it happens rarely enough and adds a nice narrative element. In my first game, Lt. Varnum was mortally wounded in the initial US charge against the village. Good news: he had three turns to have his men carry him to the pack train for treatment. Bad news: the pack train wasn’t scheduled to enter for another five turns. Good news: it didn’t really matter, as Varnum’s company was totally surrounded by Indians and about to be hacked to pieces anyway (or in game terms, melee attacked at 10:1 odds). At least Varnum was spared the horrors of army surgery.

Fire combat strength is determined by a simple matrix based on SPs, unit type and mode (US or Indian, Mounted or Dismounted), which gives you the column to roll on. The modifiers are few and easily remembered, and exactly what you’d expect in a game of this scale: terrain, leaders, unit status and range. The US units fire more effectively as a rule, though many of the Indians are armed with Henry repeaters, which evens things up.

Melee Combat is even more straightforward, with a simple odds-based CRT that produces casualties, morale checks, retreats or routs, for either or both the attacker and defender. Indians have the advantage in melee combat, just as the troopers tend to fire more effectively.

Chrome: In addition to the leader casualty rules referenced above, there are rules allowing the Indian player to break down his camps and move the non-combatants out of harm’s way, and to set grassfires to channel US movement. The US player can burn Indian encampments, but in doing so may kill non-combatants. Whether this is perceived as a good or bad thing by the US public is resolved by a die roll at the end of the game, and VPs added or deducted accordingly – a nice, if somewhat cynical, touch. The US player can also capture or scatter the Indian’s pony herd, can launch cavalry charges that temporarily boost both movement and combat strength, and has pack trains that he can use to replenish ammunition or build breastworks. Finally, the US leader Major Reno is subject to panic, and has to roll on a table the first time he is confronted by more Indians than the troopers in his command (in the actual battle Reno, who was probably drunk, did panic and led a precipitous retreat that either saved his men or doomed Custer’s – or possibly both).

Morale states include Disrupted, which is a minor annoyance remedied by spending 2 MPs, Pinned, which can seriously ruin your day when fleeing from angry hordes of Sioux (think freeze-tag with tomahawks), and Routed, which is self-explanatory. The latter two states require a die-roll on the Rally Table, which can only be attempted in the Rally Phase.

Rules Clarity and Completeness: The game takes a bit of a hit here. The rules are lacking in places. Not tragically so, but enough to annoy. The most glaring omission is the lack of any explanation of the off-map holding box charts (there are two identical ones provided, with US and Indian "?" counters with letters matching those in the boxes). Obviously this was intended to add some fog of war by keeping exact unit dispositions unknown. Either my copy of the game is missing something or they forgot to include the rules for these components. I play solo so it doesn't matter much to me. I could understand how others might be annoyed.

There are also a number of ambiguities in the rules, at least two of which are potentially important: first, the rules do not state whether you should round up or down when a unit’s movement is halved. Given that Indian units have a movement allowance of 7, this one can have an impact on the turn the Indians are alerted (depending on how they are alerted, movement for some units is halved on the first turn they become active). Second, units and terrain block LOS, but the rules don’t specify whether a LOS traced along a hexside is blocked or not. This comes up fairly often in play. You’ll have to decide for yourself. Just be consistent.

The rules also refer to Indian leader replacement counters and village breakdown markers, neither of which are included in the countermix. As these are for book-keeping purposes, the effect is minor, but it seems a bit sloppy. The rules could also be clearer on exactly when Indian units become alerted (the rules state that Indian units always move in the Movement Phase after the turn they’re alerted, but there are three different ways in which units can be alerted, including during the Indian movement phase, so I wasn’t always sure I was doing this right). Finally, there are a few morale/mode permutations that are open to interpretation, and the rules don’t mention the cumulative effects of morale results (2 disruptions = ?), which seems a bit off to me.

If you’re playing this game with an opponent you’ll have to agree on how to treat each of these issues. Since I play solitaire it’s not a problem. I’ve read far worse rules than these, and none of the ambiguities are game stoppers. The rules could be tighter and more complete, but let common sense prevail and all will be well.

Game Play
The picture below shows the starting set-up of the historical scenario.



The Indians begin encamped in several tribal circles on the west side of the Little Bighorn River, and cannot move until they are alerted, either by US units moving within five hexes of a circle or an alerted Indian unit spreading the word by moving through the camp. US forces enter the map from the south and gain VPs by killing Indian units and leaders, burning the Indian encampments, and capturing ponies and non-combatants. The Indian player gains VPs by killing US units and leaders, forcing them to withdraw, or getting their own people safely off the map.

This game plays fast and furious. There’s a fair amount of wristage, as each unit fires individually, but counter density is low (apart from the mass of non-combatants) and fire and melee combats are resolved quickly. The clean and simple fire and melee tables really pay off here, and you can pretty much play this game in real time. The chrome – and as noted above, there’s a good bit of it – adds tremendously to the flavour without bogging down the game. Yes, you will have to go back and re-read the rules for the pack mules when they arrive, and camp breakdown and movement, but none of these rules are particularly onerous. The game remains firmly focused on the heart of the battle: fire and melee, with the US player hard-pressed to fend off the masses of hostiles, who not only outnumber them but out-gun them as well (the Henry rifle, which was the Indian weapon of choice, had a much higher rate of fire than the Springfield carbine).

Playing the historical scenario, I was impressed by just how closely the game modelled the actual battle – in fact, I can think of few games I’ve played that have produced such accurate results. I’ve been reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand
while first learning and then playing this game, and the other evening I read his account of the first two turns of the game after I’d just finished playing them. With the exception of poor Varnum getting whacked in my game, the pictures I took for my session report could have been used to illustrate the account in Philbrick’s book.

What this means to me is that the designer got things fundamentally right: the numbers, the effects of firepower and melee, and rates of movement across the field. I’ve played games in which it was literally not possible for a unit to move from point A to point B in the time that its historical counterpart did so. In Battle of the Little Bighorn, the historical scenario played out exactly as it actually occurred. By this I don’t mean simply that the 7th cavalry got their asses handed to them – which they certainly did – but that the actual battlefield movements played out in the correct order at the correct pace. Reno even ended up on Reno Hill (which, once he fails his panic roll, is actually the most logical place to run to).

This is not to say that the game is scripted, which is a far different thing than being accurate. Nor does it mean that it’s unbalanced. Just don’t play the historical scenario and expect that to be a finely-balanced nail-biter, because that ain't gonna happen, and shouldn’t.

For my session report I played the historical scenario and I played it straight: I made a conscious effort to follow Custer’s plan rather than giving him any benefit of hindsight. I could have moved Custer west across the Bighorn to join Reno immediately, or held Reno back from contact until Custer was in a better position to support him. But even if I had tried to find an optimal US strategy – apart from simply not entering the map on Turn 1 – the white guys weren't going to win this one. The odds are just too great. The historical scenario is exciting and fun, but only if you’re playing solitaire. The blindingly obvious takeaway here is that attacking a huge Indian village teeming with heavily armed warriors who outnumber you three to one requires a certain lack of acumen.

There are some minor variations on the historical scenario, but nothing that seems likely to alter the actuarial number-crunching on George’s life insurance policy.

But… was Custer really a suicidal idiot? Certainly by all accounts he was a first-class douchebag, prone to ignoring orders and killing people rather indiscriminately, but he didn’t become the youngest general in the US army by being stoopid. Custer died because he had no idea that the village was as big or as concentrated as it was, or that the Indians were inclined to do anything other than flee. Poor judgment, bad luck and a lack of what we now refer to as “situational awareness” doomed Custer and his men.

So, given the situation he rode into, and the assumptions he was operating under, the result was probably inevitable. But what if some of those variables were changed? What if his assumptions had been correct, or at least not quite so disastrously wrong? What is the villages had been more spread out? What if there were fewer hostiles? What if Custer had a greater appreciation of the danger and kept his command together to maximize its defensive firepower? What if he had achieved surprise?

This is where the game shines. The Hypothetical Scenario puts you in Custer’s boots on the afternoon of June 25, 1876: you’re riding into the valley of the Little Bighorn against the hostiles, their precise strength and location unknown. You can deploy your regiment as you see fit. You may come across scattered villages, or more Indians than you can handle. The potential for disaster is still there, but so is the potential for a glorious victory (meaning, in this context, “Wow, we sure slaughtered a lot of women and children today, didn't we?”).

In the Hypothetical Scenario exact strengths and dispositions can remain uncertain until contact is made, by keeping units in holding boxes off-map (but see the note above about the lack of rules for this - you'll have to come up with a house-rule for concealed units). This makes for a much more competitive game, and allows both sides to enter the fight without benefit of hindsight.

For me, the historical scenario is enough. I’m playing solo, for the history, and the game does an admirable job at recreating the events of the actual battle. For competitive play I’d strongly recommend the Hypothetical Scenario, which gives the US player a fighting chance and provides both sides with a good deal of uncertainty and tension.

Conclusion
Battle of the Little Bighorn is a solid tactical game on US-Indian warfare in the 1876 campaign. The game’s focus is obviously very narrow and very specific. There are two other games in the series, The Battle of the Rosebud, covering Crook's repulse shortly before the Little Bighorn, and the still unpublished Adobe Walls, covering an 1864 action against the Comanche and Kiowa. The game system does what it sets out to do remarkably well, and produces a convincing and colourful narrative with a minimum of fuss and bother.

On the downside, there may be an upper limit to the number of times you’ll want to lead the 7th into the valley of the Little Bighorn, even when playing with the variable Indian deployment, so replayability may be an issue. But for someone who has a longstanding fascination with Custer’s Last Stand, this game is a gem.

I’m rating this a 7.5 overall:

Components: 7
Rules: 6
Gameplay: 8
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Michał M.
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I haven't read your review yet, but one quick thought

Quote:
Upon rejoining the regiment after his suspension in 1868, Custer ordered that the horses be reallocated to the companies based on colour, angering many officers and men who had grown to know their animals well after months of campaigning together. It was a decision that was aesthetically pleasing but militarily unsound.


I can't say that this decision was unsound - of course knowing your horse is very important, but distinction between companies based on horse colour is quite old and sound idea to make recogniotion (especially in the fray) easier.

PS. Sorry for any mistakes in spelling but im sick and struggle to think even in my mother tongue
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Mike Hoyt

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Excellent review, makes me want a copy! Thanks for brining this to my attention.

Your quote of Berg about some battles making great reading, but lousy games is something I've thought of several times when reading various accounts. The Alamo springs to mind. But I wouldn't give up on Roark's Drift until you've tried

The Battle of Roark's Drift
which is a detailed, long, but pretty interesting take, and

Victoria Cross II
which is much simpler, shorter, but still evocative of the battle...

I suppose I prefer the later if presed....



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Mike Hoyt

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Might add that this game, Little Bighorn, is on the pre-order list from Legion Wargames, and I just saw a message on CSW about the possibility of adding Gibbon's column.

http://www.legionwargames.com/legion_pre-order.php
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Barry Kendall
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I served as a playtester for this game, a process which I enjoyed very much not only because of my interest in the Centennial Campaign but because Michael Taylor was very good to work with, even at a distance. I'm glad you like the game.

Thank you for your positive comments regarding the hypothetical scenario. After the design was pretty well along, I proposed this scenario to Michael and was pleasantly surprised when he decided to include it. My original proposal was under the heading "What Custer Expected."

I've long thought that while Custer is justifiably excoriated for disregarding his scouts' warnings about the size of the village, he is treated rather harshly for so rashly attacking such a large concentration of native Americans.

Without going into great detail here, the common Army experience prior to the 1876 Campaign indicated that Plains Indians used their mobility to harass and evade, not stand in pitched battle. Although after the Washita Custer was threatened by growing numbers of mounted Indians from other villages along the creek bottoms, the Seventh was not seriously endangered, in no small part because of the dependent captives/hostages in his custody.

With sound reason, based on experience, that he would encounter a number of scattered villages along the Little Big Horn flood plain rather than one concentrated group of tribal circles, he could fairly hope to "cut out" a number of hostages sufficient to compel the tribes present to return to the reservation--the strategic goal of the campaign.

Custer was unaware that Crook's column, a week earlier, had encountered a level of Indian aggressiveness and persistence hitherto unprecedented on the Plains at the Battle of the Rosebud. Crook faced fewer warriors than Custer, with more than twice the force under his command, and was checked in his advance and nearly overrun in the beginning (and almost defeated in detail later in the action). Crook made no attempt to communicate with any other Army column to provide intelligence on the unanticipated magnitude of Indian truculence.

The hypothetical scenario aimed at re-creating for the Army player two of the important factors which Custer faced on 25 June: an unknown number of "hostiles," and uncertain village locations.

Bearing in mind Terry's orders to Custer to "feel constantly to (his) left" so as to prevent the "hostiles" from escaping containment, and Terry's implied expectations of Custer implementing decisive action (Terry entrusted Custer with virtually the entire mobile component of his command, including his own entire regiment and all four companies of Brisbin's cavalry command, along with three Gatling guns if desired), Custer would have "lost the game" in "gamer terms" had he not acted offensively, given Terry's cautiously (and cleverly; Terry was also an attorney) devised orders.

The fact that native accounts confirm the tribes' intention to break up and move the mega-village on 26 June shows that Custer might well have encountered smaller and more scattered concentrations of Native Americans, minus several tribal groups, rather than the full concentration.

Regarding the lack of clarity related to "holding box" rules, that is probably my fault as much as the designer's, since when I submitted the scenario proposal I had not intended for it to be regarded as "final." Some things were probably not spelled out as clearly as they should have been, but with playtesting coming to a close, I wanted to get the proposal in before it was too late.

I have not been involved with the forthcoming reprint edition, but I expect that it will reflect the constructive criticism and other input offered by many since the game's initial release.

I have a LBH design of my own in process with a publisher showing kindly interest (and commendable patience) but that design, if it sees the light of day, will take a different approach, not because of any criticism of Michael's design but simply because I have some hopes of reflecting cultural and psychological factors differently. Given some issues related to other life responsibilities, I can't guarantee any timeline on this effort.

Thank you for a very fair and thorough review of this excellent game. I hope Michael sees it.
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Mike Hoyt

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Barry, thanks for providing this background. Michael has indeed seen this review, check out his comments in the CSW folder.

It's too bad you are not involved n the reprint, though perhaps it is not too late? Still quite a few pre-orders to go.

But good luck with your own design, and thanks for your contribution to this one!
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David
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Fantastic review.
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Barry Kendall
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Oh, you bet, thank you, Mike. I didn't mean to toot my own horn, just thought some of the folks might like to know a little more background on this very fine game.

I read an entry of Michael's on the CSW thread a while back that was good for the old humility index. He was talking about rules revisions and one minor rule regarding two-hexes ZOC for Army units, and he couldn't remember where this had come from.

I'd been reading some of the archaological/ballistic/forensic reports from the LBH study done in the '80s after the wildfire that cleared a lot of the battlefield offering access for such work, and one thing that stood out for me was that the Springfield carbines the Seventh used outranged the Henry and Winchester repeaters of the Native Americans. So I'd sent Michael the suggestion about ZOC extension to reflect the inhibiting influence of this range capability on the Indians' tactical movements prior to heavy contact, and he tried to use it.

Given the nature of the system and how the components mesh, it was probably more cumbersome minutae than savory simulation, so I expect it won't be carried into second edition.

I do hope to reflect this tactical nuance in some way in my design if it serves the mechanics, but we'll see about that.

This little detail does show, I think, how receptive Michael was to playtester feedback and how much TLC he lavished on the design. As I said, a great guy to work with.

I've been out of contact with him for some time--lost the connection somewhere during the playtesting for Adobe Walls a while ago--and I'm sure he's got good people working on the revision.

Thanks for your kind wishes for my design. Steve Rawling (ATO) is the patient publisher I'm hoping to satisfy with some progress this year. I finally tracked down a key source I've been hunting (the 1874 Cavalry Manual of Tactics) at the Army Heritage Center at Carlisle just a week or so ago, so now once Lent/Easter is behind me I'll be making a one-man "class trip" to finish research on cavalry tactical doctrine in that period (a key element of my design vision).
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John Berry

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"Without going into great detail here, the common Army experience prior to the 1876 Campaign indicated that Plains Indians used their mobility to harass and evade, not stand in pitched battle. Although after the Washita Custer was threatened by growing numbers of mounted Indians from other villages along the creek bottoms, the Seventh was not seriously endangered, in no small part because of the dependent captives/hostages in his custody."

Thank you for bringing some actual "reality" to the basis for Custer's actions at the Little Bighorn. While I will readily acknowledge Custer's failures as a leader, his actions at the Little Bighorn were based on, and in keeping, with his experiences in previous campaigns and the need to strike quickly to either endanger the camp's pony herd and/or take hostages (and thus possibly bringing the Sioux warriors under control or more easily pursued if they fled). As for the "unbalanced" murderer depicted in Little Big Man, the entertainment business has had great success in demonizing Custer while ignoring facts like his presiding over attempts to bring hostile tribes into peace agreements with one another in 1875. To me, Custer's greatest error as the commander on this battlefield was to fail to listen to his scouts (who he greatly trusted) and then dividing his command in the face of a superior enemy. Custer "bashing" comes easily to those who have never commanded in combat and have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
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Barry Kendall
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You're right, John, armchair-quarterbacking is always easy from the bold position of an easy chair. Not so easy for a serving officer in a very dry period for the military.

One fact often ignored is the reality that with the small number of authorized positions for officers in the peacetime Army, career advancement was slow at best and was indexed to a strict system of seniority. It would take exceptional circumstances for an officer hoping for a promotion to full colonel or beyond to receive such an elevation before age infirmity set in--something like a victory on the frontier.

Crook and Terry already had their star. Custer, while still relatively young, was looking at the Army lists like every other officer and seeing little reason for hope. He can be accused of careerism and naked ambition at the expense of his regiment, but people tend to forget the economic realities for Army families at that time.

Additionally, officers were often detached for other duties such as courts-martial which took them away from time in the field, further eroding opportunities for achievement.

Regarding the division of his regiment, experience had taught Custer that while a village's logistical apparatus--food, cookware, tipi materials, trade goods, salt, etc.--were a vulnerability, they did not deflect hostile bullets. Nor would even a sizeable component of the pony herd, which would stampede in any event if it began receiving fire (and stampeded ponies could be rounded up days later if need be). Only live hostages would serve the purpose of leveraging the tribes' interests so as to induce peaceful (if resentful) return to the reservations.

By dividing the regiment into maneuver commands, Custer both followed the letter of Terry's orders (feeling to his left through Benteen's battalion) and positioned elements to cause mass flight in the village (Reno's battalion) away while Custer continued to advance with two maneuver commands under Yates and Keogh (the battalions were assigned to leadership in strict observance of regimental officers' seniority).

Rather than scattering, this might be envisioned as an outstretched hand with open fingers.

Barring the pack train's becoming mired in a bog when the thirsty mules bolted for water, and Benteen's delay upon encountering, first, the mired train and then Reno's routed battalion, Custer might have been able to time his "grab" of several hundred fugitives. However, his delay awaiting Benteen's recalled battalion (which would have allowed Keogh to displace toward Custer, providing the critical mass needed to round up sufficient hostages) provided his opponents the time necessary to adjust to discovery of the threat he represented and first contain, then defeat Custer's separated wing.

Timing was very critical in this battle; nearly everything had to go right, and it didn't.

One more thing: gamers familiar with the field at Gettysburg should bear in mind that the distance from Reno Hill to Last Stand Hill is greater than the distance from the summit of Big Round Top to Barlow's Knoll.

Knowing that over 150,000 men were engaged at Gettysburg--and not all at one time over that distance--gives added perspective to the Little Big Horn action, in which around six hundred soldiers, initially in four separate groupings, engaged approximately 1,800 native warriors altogether who were defending a village of perhaps 7,000.

Small wonder individual elements of the Seventh couldn't tell what was happening with most of the others.
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Cpl. Fields
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Malaggar wrote:
I can't say that this decision was unsound - of course knowing your horse is very important, but distinction between companies based on horse colour is quite old and sound idea to make recogniotion (especially in the fray) easier.


That does make sense to me, but both Philbrick and Captain Benteen seem to think otherwise:

Quote:
In the fall of 1868, General Sheridan recalled Custer from his yearlong suspension to lead the Seventh Cavalry in a winter campaign against the Cheyenne. Upon his return from exile, Custer proceeded to turn the regiment inside out.

For “uniformity of appearance,” he decided to “color the horses.” All the regiment’s horses were assembled in a single group and divided up according to color. Four companies were assigned the bays (brown with black legs, manes, and tails); three companies were given the sorrels (reddish brown with similarly colored manes and tails); one company got the chestnuts; another the browns; yet another the blacks; and yet another the grays; with the leftovers, euphemistically referred to as the “brindles” by Custer, going to the company commanded by the most junior officer. It might be pleasing to the eye to assign a horse color to each company, but Custer had, in one stroke, made a mockery of his officers’ efforts to provide their companies with the best possible horses. And besides, as every cavalryman knew, horses were much more than a commodity to be sorted by color. Each horse had a distinct personality, and over the course of the last year, each soldier had come to know his horse not only as a means of transportation but as a friend. “This act,” Benteen wrote, “at the beginning of a severe campaign was not only ridiculous, but criminal, unjust, and arbitrary in the extreme.”

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Cpl. Fields
South Africa
Hopelessly Surrounded
Isandlwana, Zululand
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Barry Kendall wrote:

The hypothetical scenario aimed at re-creating for the Army player two of the important factors which Custer faced on 25 June: an unknown number of "hostiles," and uncertain village locations.


And it accomplishes that nicely - with just half a page of special rules. Well done!

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Regarding the lack of clarity related to "holding box" rules, that is probably my fault as much as the designer's, since when I submitted the scenario proposal I had not intended for it to be regarded as "final." Some things were probably not spelled out as clearly as they should have been, but with playtesting coming to a close, I wanted to get the proposal in before it was too late.


Well, it's never to late to post them here as a variant. I think I can pretty much imagine what you had in mind, but I'd like to hear it from the horse's mouth (so to speak) - especially how to determine when/how hidden units are revealed.

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I have a LBH design of my own in process with a publisher showing kindly interest (and commendable patience) but that design, if it sees the light of day, will take a different approach, not because of any criticism of Michael's design but simply because I have some hopes of reflecting cultural and psychological factors differently. Given some issues related to other life responsibilities, I can't guarantee any timeline on this effort.


This is good news indeed! Is your design far enough along to create a game page here? I look forward to hearing more.

The discussion about Custer's actions in this battle and the tactics employed is very interesting. Philbrick is of the opinion - and some Indian accounts support this - that Reno's charge took the Indians completely by surprise, and that if Reno hadn't panicked he might well have stampeded the entire village without any support from Custer.

The comments that you and John made about armchair-quarterbacking are fair enough, and I think I expressed as much in the review. If the village had been smaller and the Indians more passive, the battle might have resembled the Washita. But - and without wanting to politicize the discussion - I think it's only fair to point out that the Washita River was arguably more of a massacre than a battle (the 7th Cavalry suffered one fatality in the attack on the village), and that Custer used captive women and children as human shields when confronted by hostile warriors. There are reasons for condemning Custer that have nothing to do with his decisions on the Little Bighorn.
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Cpl. Fields
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blockhead wrote:

Your quote of Berg about some battles making great reading, but lousy games is something I've thought of several times when reading various accounts. The Alamo springs to mind. But I wouldn't give up on Roark's Drift until you've tried

The Battle of Roark's Drift
which is a detailed, long, but pretty interesting take, and

Victoria Cross II
which is much simpler, shorter, but still evocative of the battle...

I suppose I prefer the later if presed....


Actually I do have quite a keen interest in the Zulu War (who'd have guessed?), and I own The Defense of Rorke's Drift, which I believe is an updated version of The Battle of Roark's Drift. One of the things they updated was the spelling of the battle...

Berg himself has designed at least two games on the Zulu War: Soldiers of the Queen: Battles at Isandhlwana and Omdurman and Zulu!. I've played the former several times. I've heard good things about Victoria Cross but have never had a chance to play.

As an aside, not only have I fired a Martini-Henry rifle, but I may be the only person currently alive to have a scar from a bayonet wound inflicted by a triangular bayonet fixed to a Martini-Henry.
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Pete Belli
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Impressive review. thumbsup

The LBH campaign is one of my obsessions.

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The Indian player gains VPs by killing US units and leaders...


Tribal warriors had a higher regard for examples of bravery in the face of the enemy than killing for the sake of inflicting casulaties. Of course, killing an enemy was always a feat of valor, but Plains Indian culture placed a premium on close combat and "counting coup" by striking an opponent. Any game about the LBH should reflect this tradition.

Also, the Native American warriors made little distiction between cavalry officers and enlisted men during the heat of battle. In the dust, smoke, and confusion of this struggle a dead cavalrymen was simply a dead cavalryman.

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Barry Kendall
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Lebanon
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This one's in answer to Corp. Fields' question (I've never figured out how to "quote" just part of someone's entry; when I try it always comes out with the entire thing reproduced yet again) about my LBH design.

I'm still in the research stage, though I have now either obtained or have access to everything I was after. I'm hoping to have the design completed and off to the developer this year, but publication will certainly not be in 2012 and probably not 2013 either.

My design will focus on the battle itself, not the campaign. I hope to represent the approach of the Seventh as well as the fighting, in order to allow the "Custer" player to control battalion assignments, but this depends on how terrain ends up being represented; much depends on the scale required to permit "concealment" and define advantageous approaches for each side on the map.

I plan to represent each company of the Seventh with an off-map display tracking its physical and moral condition including its confidence and aggressiveness, ammunition supply, condition of mounts, and manpower. Each company commander will also be rated for confidence, initiative, tactical ability, resilience, and relative loyalty to the "Custer Ring."

Native American leaders will be represented as individuals with varying abilities to attract warriors who will coordinate their efforts and aims with those of the leader; warriors will be fighting both in independent bodies and as "followers" of war chiefs, and this will be highly variable as the battle unfolds.

The pony herd, Native American dependents and pack train will be represented.

My hope is to put the player squarely in Custer's saddle, dealing with the situation as presented to him on the morning of the 25th and facing "victory conditions" that are not conducive to caution in all respects. Subordinate leaders of the Seventh (Reno, Benteen, Keogh, and Yates) will have thier historical company assignments, as these assignments, worked out previously by Custer and Adjutant Cooke, explicitly followed the order-of-seniority of their company commanders as well as the "Wing" assigments assigned earlier in the campaign (Maj. Reno's previous six-company Command on his "scout" constituted his defined wing; Custer retained the other Command then and also on 25 June, with McDougall's B Co. detached from Yates' battalion as pack train escort).

I also want the Native American player to experience the concern of both chiefs and warriors for the wellbeing of dependents and protection of their "wealth" (ponies and their camp impedimenta) and struggle to respond to an unfolding surprise situation in an effective way while lacking centralized command structures (reflecting Plains culture).

The game will not include Terry's command, as I am convinced that Terry did not intend to coordinate with Custer so closely as to be able to combine forces in tactical contact. The focus will be squarely on 25 June and what happens on that day.

I hope this sounds like something folks might like to play.
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
I hope this sounds like something folks might like to play.


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michael esposito
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morton grove
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Great Review! thumbsup

Looking forward to the reprints of Rosebud and Little Bighorn
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Robert Grainger
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Any news on progress? I'm reading a lot about the battle at the moment, and I can't wait to try this out.
 
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Mike Hoyt

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In production at the moment, shipping maybe as early as January 2016.
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Robert Stuart
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Thank you for an excellent analysis.

I can't help acknowledging what I see as a critical role played by one of my (many) childhood heroes:

Barry Kendall wrote:
Without going into great detail here, the common Army experience prior to the 1876 Campaign indicated that Plains Indians used their mobility to harass and evade, not stand in pitched battle. Although after the Washita Custer was threatened by growing numbers of mounted Indians from other villages along the creek bottoms, the Seventh was not seriously endangered...

Custer was unaware that Crook's column, a week earlier, had encountered a level of Indian aggressiveness and persistence hitherto unprecedented on the Plains at the Battle of the Rosebud.


That was due to Crazy Horse.

Barry Kendall wrote:
The fact that native accounts confirm the tribes' intention to break up and move the mega-village on 26 June shows that Custer might well have encountered smaller and more scattered concentrations of Native Americans, minus several tribal groups, rather than the full concentration.


Sitting Bull's account seems to confirm that, for the Indians, Custer's attack while all their forces were concentrated in one place was a fortuitous gift.

 
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Seth Owen
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Norwich
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Malaggar wrote:
I haven't read your review yet, but one quick thought

Quote:
Upon rejoining the regiment after his suspension in 1868, Custer ordered that the horses be reallocated to the companies based on colour, angering many officers and men who had grown to know their animals well after months of campaigning together. It was a decision that was aesthetically pleasing but militarily unsound.


I can't say that this decision was unsound - of course knowing your horse is very important, but distinction between companies based on horse colour is quite old and sound idea to make recogniotion (especially in the fray) easier.

PS. Sorry for any mistakes in spelling but im sick and struggle to think even in my mother tongue


As it occurred eight years before the battle I doubt it had any significance.
 
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George Varachidis
Greece
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Scale is about 350m/hex....I,m pretty sure about it...
 
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Mike Taylor
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Scale is around 1/4 mile per hex. I think it is closer to 400m, but still pretty close. It is surprising to some people when they realize just how much of an area the Little Bighorn battle covered. And that isn't including the approach to the valley by the two columns. I think someone compared it to the Gettysburg battlefield in size.
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David Corbett
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Custer's demise was due primarily due to his insubordinate officers not obeying orders. Re:
"Bring packs."
 
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Mike Taylor
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Dave,

But Benteen did bring the packs up with him. Are you saying he didn't? Mules loaded down with boxes of heavy ammunition and supplies will not move fast, no matter how quick you tell the teamsters to move. I just can't see how you can "come quick" while also being ordered to "bring packs". You can't do both at the same time.

Do you think that Custer ran out of ammo and that is why his command was overrun? What other orders did they disobey? Benteen scouted to the left as ordered, and Reno charged down the valley as ordered.

I believe that some of the isolated bodies found around the battlefield may have been additional dispatch riders that failed to make it through and were killed. If that is true it sure would be interesting to know what messages/orders they were carrying.
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