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Subject: Antietam: "Toombs! You just killed us all!" rss

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Chris Rush
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Continuing our PBeM through B+G 1, my father and I recently finished up playing Antietam. He was the Confederate side, leaving me to ponder how to assault and separate his forces and perhaps take control of the ferry while moving a mere 10 units per turn. As could be expected, the first half of the game was a fine recreation of offensive unproductivity by the Union (me, General McClellan reborn) ... until the craziest thing happened in Turn 6.

Since my father had a flair for defensive positioning in Shiloh (which didn't work out that time considering the nature of that game), I knew he would excel at Antietam, the game designed for his particular strategy. With the onus of movement and attack solely on me, I knew I was going to be in for a rough battle, considering my lack of experience (which is fortunately being ameliorated nearly daily). Between our battles, I had done some scant bit of research on improving wargaming tactics, in what little time I had when not grading senior theses and playing in person with my two kids and trying to be a good husband as well. I came across the old SPI Intro. to Wargaming flyer from 1977 thanks to www.grognard.com, which helped tremendously, in part because all of the examples on improving one's tactics came from Blue & Gray! What a remarkable coincidence. Of course, the saddest part of reading the flyer was looking at those prices of games and S&T magazine. Makes me wish I had a DeLorean. So despite the limitation of moving only 10 units per turn, I came armed with a better knowledge of flanking attacks, the 3:1 combat ratio, and diversionary attacks from bombarding artillery (which had never occurred to me in Shiloh), I felt I could at least make a better showing of it this time around.

The movement limitations, however, didn't help any. It's probably a good thing my first attempt at this game was in the relaxed timeframe of playing by e-mail. I wouldn't say there was "paralysis" involved, but I did spend a lengthy amount of time each night trying to figure out which units to move, how to best attack/cross the fords, and generally growling at all those units piled up across Antietam Creek having a day-long smoke break while only 10 units did all the heavy lifting. My turns lasted about 1 hour, though in my defense if I were playing in person I would have most liked decided faster.

By turn 4 or 5, though, I think the limitation started to help, since I had resigned myself to utilizing this small cadre to units to niggle my way to Sharpsburg and hopefully the ford before AP Hill could come stomp us all with his size-16 boots. By turn 3, I knew my assault on the Confederate left flank had essentially failed, despite the fact I had the most troops in that area from the beginning of the game. As I said, I was channeling the spirit of McClellan in my caution in the early turns, which prevented me from making any serious inroads there. Armistead basically single-handedly warded off most of my advances thanks to my dad's superior defensive posture.

Part of my troubles this game, though, was my forgetfulness concerning some of the basic rules. Having gotten accustomed to the 6 MP value for entering Rough/Forest hexes in Shiloh, my brain thought all Forest hexes took 6 MPs to enter, which was not disabused until I actually looked at the Terrain Effects Chart with my eyes open around Turn 8. Perhaps this would have changed some of my assault strategies had I remembered that little tidbit, but we'll never know. With my flank assault stymied, I knew it was time to start assaulting Sharpsburg and get some of the stronger 6- and 7-value infantry across some fords. Another of my rules-mistakes came in thinking crossing a bridge took an extra MP, since the ford does. Oops again.

Even so, by turn 5 I had made a bit of headway in the middle of the board crossing a couple bridges since I left the flank guys sitting there, knowing my dad certainly was not going to advance to attack them - he had no reason to move his men. While I got a couple guys across the bridges, thanks in part to using the rifled artillery, little serious progress was being made until turn 6, when what looked like my main assault units were in place for whatever campaign I was going to arrange. Since my dad had no need to advance after combat, he had no need to lock me in any ZOCs, knowing it would be in his best interest to make me use my limited number of movement allowances to even set up small attacks. On a whim, I had sent a single 4-value infantry all the way to the edge of the map and the back-door bridge, thinking I could maybe sneak him down and across the river, preventing AP Hill from even entering. However, since my dad was also playing with a map and counters, and not just his imagination, he could see what I was doing and stopped that handily.

Then, somehow, the oddest thing happened. My few units across the bridge above Sharpsburg were met by a small resistance force of a few units I had somehow managed to push back, with the help of the artillery, sometimes firing across each other. By turn 6, my dad's defense was angled at such a way to prevent a lot of traffic in that area but just enough that a few lucky Defense retreats and advance-after-combats from me made a slight wedge between his main defense of Sharpsburg and the small area between the bridge and Snavely's Ford.

Now, here's where the story gets really goofy. Earlier in turn 5, my dad had neglected to resolve one of his locked-in-my-ZOC battles in that area. I took the liberty of doing it for him and he won, sending my unit back across the bridge. But, since I thought he might want to advance, I called him up to ask, knowing that would save some time to resolved it over the phone. Before I could tell him I resolved it, he rolled for himself and lost, retreating his unit and allowing me to move and better cement my position. Strangely enough, by actually losing that battle and regrouping, he was in a slightly better position, since now I couldn't move around him and outflank him as easily had I tried to do that. The main reason I was spending time in this area instead of trying to get more units into a head-on Sharpsburg assault was that this area was the Confederate right flank. If I could eliminate these few units, I could have a slight chance even with only a few turns left to work around Sharpsburg and outflank some units - if not getting the Sharpsburg victory point bonus for myself, at least denying it to my dad and possibly making the total score a bit closer. So my dad lost the fight the second time it was fought, which seemed to be better for him after all. Then came turn 6.

I had just suffered a fairly devastating blow, losing a strong 6-value unit thanks to my dad rolling a 1 at the end of his turn 5. This basically forced me to concentrate more units on the flank, since I couldn't afford too many more "set-up" movement turns. Somehow, I had maneuvered some flanking units in such a way that, with some good combat rolls, I got my dad's right flank down to a single stack of Toombs and Jenkins in that little dip between the bridge and Snavely's ford. I couldn't eliminate them, but I locked them in my ZOC for his turn. I was a bit excited since I had finally opened up a bit of a gap and would be able to maybe bring some final few units across the bridge for a last-ditch effort in turns 7-10 (at least until AP Hill arrived).

And then it happened. My dad lost his battle and had to retreat, but thanks to the sporadic spreading of my units, the only place he could retreat Toombs + Jenkins was backward ... across Snavely's Ford. My dad wrote that down, sent it in his e-mail, and thought nothing of it. When I saw it, I'm pretty sure I just stared for close to 2 minutes. Surely, that couldn't be right, I thought. My dad had just crossed Antietam Creek. Admittedly, in a roundabout way, but there it was. I checked the rulebook for "voluntarily eliminating your units if you don't want to retreat," but I couldn't find it. You may now be thinking "of course you can do that - it's rule #.#." Well, I couldn't find it. Even so, I called my dad on the phone to try to talk him out of it. It took him a moment to realize the implications of that simple retreat: I could now unleash all the units from their Diet Coke break and flood Sharpsburg. AP Hill would have to face a deluge of an assault instead of the little trickle he should have encountered. Surely even a newb such as myself could win Antietam with moving all the units, even with so few turns remaining. I tried to talk my dad out of it, but as he said, "I may regret this, but let's leave it as it is." He was right. He would regret it. The Confederates crossed Antietam Creek. And then so did the Union.

It took a couple turns to get everyone where I could effectively use them, but use them I did. Rather carelessly, too - since I could now "afford" to lose units, I went for 4:1 and 5:1 combat ratios instead of decreasing them to 3:1. I gladly went for Exchanges so I could be sure of eliminating Confederate troops. For the first time in my wargaming career I thought more like a general than an English teacher, to an extent. Gaining the territory and realizing the objectives were more important than the "lives" of my men. Of course, I could never do that in real life. (If the USA is ever in the position in which I am leading men into battle, just know we have already lost.) Around turn 8, I realized I had not only been wrong about Forest MPs, but I had been neglecting to give the town defense hexes a 2x bonus. Oops. Yes, my dad could have called me on it a number of times, but I should have known better. It's a tainted victory, that's for sure.

By the end of my turn 9, JG Walker was gone, AP Hill was gone, and my dad was left with about 8 units, mostly from being outflanked and having nowhere to retreat out of my ZOCs. That's how I got AP Hill. It was a 1:1, but he had nowhere to go. It was at that time my dad courteously resigned from the field. I couldn't blame him. The joy had left the field. The game was fun to play, but it had become a slaughter, not a game. I didn't bother to count up the VPs.



Looking back, I regret how it ended. It was far more challenging and interesting having to use only 10 units per turn. It required actual thinking, not just pounding the field with troop after troop. If I play this solo sometime, which is rather likely, I'll be sure not to cross the river. When my dad and I play through B&G again soon, this time switching sides and I am the Confederates, I'll be sure to keep Toombs and Jenkins on my side of the creek. I have the feeling my dad will still find a way to win. On to Chickamauga.
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Kim Meints
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Iowa
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Thanks Chris for the wonderful AAR session.Great & fun reading.

I played Antitam last spring or summer after not playing it for some time. It was solo and I used the Extra Union reinforcement rule plus a house rule of a die roll(I think a dr1 or a 1&2) where after Turn 3 McClellan got his act in grear and listen to his Corps commanders to start releasing more men.

And as in your game I forced a Confederate unit to retreat over Antietum creek to release the full army but it was too late in the game to affect the outcome which was still a Union victory.My Union was stymied for half the game where they then slowly got the Reb's pushed back to allow more units across the creek where I was trying hard to make a secound drive.

It's good for me at least revisiting my old friends from back then(yes my SPI days were back right after the start of SPI)

Oh,And you can Voluntarily reduce the combat Odds in a battle but not voluntarily eliminate a unit

Looking forward to more reports of games with your dad.

I pulled out for some reason my copy of the TSR/SPI B&GI right after reading your report and forgot how TSR made a shambles of the rule booklet(IMHO).Placing reinforcments,special movement, etc from the seperate battles into the main sections of the rules.Talk about a cluster! Those needed to stay with each scenario/battle for easy reference like the original SPI edition.
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