I have a bias against DTP (desktop published) games; I don’t like whatever assembly I might have to do – like cutting non die cut counters – because I’m spoiled after years of outstanding production from the big game companies. And my occasional bouts of clumsiness with a modelling knife may have imbued me with a sense of survival that says avoid games which do not have die cut counters. But Gettysburg is one of my favorite game topics, and in the end that desire won out and led me to acquiring the DTP game Battle for Gettysburg – The First Day from Chris Harding Simulations in Adelaide, Australia. The designer is Jim Zoldak.
Of course, there had to be a twist in the tale. Despite the excellent packaging, when the game arrived in double quick time, some bastard of a game hating postal worker had savaged my package and ruined my counters, even before I had a chance to get my hands on them. Excellent customer service from Chris got me an electronic file and, in the end, I glued them, mounted them, and cut them. I didn’t do a great job with the assembly, probably overdoing the glue application in places. So, if you see counters that are less than perfect in the pictures, don’t blame Chris; it’s all my fault!
Now onto the game. (I know, you were wondering…)
Inside the ziploc bag you get:
- A four page rulebook
- The map – 48 x 42 cm, in two parts
- 120 single sided, non die cut counters
- A double sided play aid card
- A setup and reinforcement card
- A small paper turn record
- A cover sheet with developer’s notes on the revers
- Three small ziploc bags for the counters
For a DTP game, the standards are fine. The map is a little sparse for my taste, but it is clear and does not offend. The counters are also fine and don’t try and boldly strike out in a new graphical direction; you get a historical ID, a wee picture, and combat strength and movement points.
The rules may only be an amazing four pages, but they do a damn fine job. I did have a couple of queries, but I applied common sense and had no problem playing the game. I certainly did not feel let down by having less to read before I could play the game!
Scale, Sequence & System
Each unit is a brigade, each hex is 250 yards, each step is 300 men (or 6-7 guns) and each turn – seven in the game – is an hour.
The game uses a chit driven sequence with each Union Corps (or their cavalry) and Confederate Division being activated on its single chit being drawn from a common container. Upon activation you get:
- First Fire
- Defensive Fire
- Final Fire
First Fire allows activated units that are adjacent (and their in range artillery) to fire. Movement is self explanatory. Note that the cavalry can mount and dismount, but you do not need to bother about limbering or unlimbering artillery, because they can only fire or move in an activation. Oh, and units have facing, so some care is needed when arranging defensive lines. You do not want to be hit in the flank. Defensive Fire is when the other guy gets to fire back, so if you have moved units into contact, this is when they take their punishment. Final Fire is for those activated units that have held their fire (rare) or have moved and are now adjacent.
You will have noticed that all combat is fire combat. You take the fire strength, get the column on the table, and roll 1d6. The result is either a miss or a morale check or a morale check with a penalty. If a unit must take a morale check it has to roll its morale or less on 1d6. All units have a morale rating of four, so 1-4 passes and 5-6 fails. The amount by which a unit fails must be taken as step losses or retreats or both. Those penalties? They come off the target unit’s morale rating, making it more likely to suffer.
For example, let’s say I fire and get a combat result of “1”. That means the target unit has to take a morale check, but instead of a morale of four it now has a morale of three. On a roll of 1-3 it passes. On a 4, 5, or 6 it takes one, two, or three hits, respectively.
There are modifiers for terrain, flank fire, and so on. Dismounted Union Cavalry are doubled. Artillery has a six hex range, and is tripled when firing at an adjacent hex.
In the offensive fire phases, if you get the enemy to vacate the hex, you can advance.
It’s simple and effective. You do, of course, then have to track losses by using the step loss counters. I would have preferred a roster system, but I know many gamers hate that.
How does it play?
This is not a long game, so you get into the action quickly. The Union player has to fight a combined delaying and rearguard action, interspersed with judicious counterattacks – or threats of counterattack – to try and put the Confederate steamroller off course. A few stalled assaults can really hurt the Confederates, as it should be. On the other side of the coin, if they can outflank a Union defensive line, and clear a path, the movement allowances are generous enough that seriously deep penetrations can be made.
The chit draw system makes for an exciting encounter, and there are enough challenges in game play to keep you involved. However, since the reinforcements are always going to arrive, and always at the same location, you might want to vary that to increase the chaos and replayability.
Things I liked
This is fast, easy, accessible, and fun. You can easily finish a complete game in one sitting.
Because the system is so sleek (some may say sparse) you can easily add your own bits and pieces if you are so inclined.
Line of sight in these games can be tricky. I found the rules and the examples sorted out the position for me, quite satisfactorily.
I really liked the neat piece of detail that set out when units could change facing.
Things I didn’t like
I think I might have liked it more with a little extra chrome. For example, the chit draw activates the formation even if half of it is on one side of the board, and half on the other. I would have preferred some kind of command control restriction. Not crucial, and I could well be wrong about it.
I recognize that the designer showed remarkable restraint (and probably wisdom) by having the same morale rating for all units. I’m not convinced that is historically right, but it’s a matter of opinion, and easily tweaked if I felt strongly enough to do something about it.
The biggest dislike is one shared by the vast majority of games: the birds eye view and the lack of command and control restrictions mean that players can send their troops to exactly the right opening at exactly the right time. (Yes, the chit draw goes some way to offset that.) To balance that view, this is a playable game, not a detailed simulation. However, it would be interesting to see how this worked with some form of orders system tacked on top…
I understand the game only covers the first day of the battle because the designer couldn’t get it to work for the follow on days. Good for him in deciding to deliver a working package.
I prefer combat systems that are a single roll. If you ignore the flank modifier, because every unit has the same morale rating, you could probably put together a 2d6 version of the combat results table that delivered the results at once. But, at the same time, you curtail the use of different morale ratings.
I do wonder if the combat results system is both a blessing and a curse. For example, if all units have a morale rating of four, everything is fine and dandy. But I can well see that units with lower morale ratings would be fragile, and those with higher morale ratings might be doing superman impressions. So, although I would prefer some unit differential, I’m uncertain how practical that is given the existing CRT. Perhaps a switch to a 2d6 or 1d10 type CRT might work. It is interesting to compare this approach to that of Markus Stumptner’s designs at this level. If I recall correctly, their CRT is all about casualties, and the morale or quality of the target is of no consequence.
I only had one rule query the rulebook failed to deal with: can cavalry mount in a ZOC, and then exit the ZOC in the same turn? I assumed not. (Thus dooming the Union cavalry to being slaughtered in one of my plays of the game. Ooops.) I assumed cavalry could not enter a ZOC and then dismount.
I’d like to see more games with this system.
This is a nice game. It’s a great introduction to the hobby for anyone interested in this period. It delivers – unpretentiously – a quite absorbing gaming experience. It’s not perfect, and although the DTP production does not let the side down, part of me was left wondering what this would like with a full blown GMT or MMP style professional treatment. That’s a good sign.
Bottom line: glad I saw it, bought it, and played it.
(Note: I’m not sure if I missed it when I ordered my game, but according to the Chris Harding website, you can pay extra and get precut counters.)