The devil’s in his den

I think I understand why I buy the games I buy. But I cannot explain to you why I decide to play the games I play.

There I was, finishing off another session with Pickett’s Charge, still in a Gettysburg frame of mind, but thinking about either staying at the brigade level (with Thunder at the Crossroads) or going down to the regimental scale (with This Hallowed Ground or The Last Victory).

So you tell me how I ended up with Devil’s Den on the game table?

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OK, it is a Gettysburg game. But it’s company (strictly, it’s battalion) level, and you only get a part of the battle. There must be a reason…

In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that I picked up and checked out Yaquinto’s Battles and Leaders first. It is at a similar level, but any desire to play it faded when I looked at the scenarios. That game uses a limited selection of geomorphic maps and terrain counters, and the resulting terrain is an impression of the battlefield rather than a historical rendering.

Devil’s Den uses a ground scale of 30 yard hexes, a turn scale of 8 minutes, and a strength point representing one gun or 15 soldiers. Typically, infantry regiments are composed of a leader and five battalions, each representing two companies.┬áThe game comes with a basic version and advanced rules and three scenarios.

The system is “I go, you go” with each regiment’s actions determined by how its leader spends the available command points. There are plenty to go around until units start taking losses; paying to rally disrupted units, and paying the cumulative penalty for each ineffective (flipped over) unit, can slow the regiment to a dead halt.

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I played the first three turns to get the basic rules sorted in my head, then restarted the Devil’s Den scenario. I am about three quarters of the way through the fifteen turns, and have been pleasantly surprised by the experience so far.

  • Moving the pieces around has a nice miniatures feel.
  • The command ranges seem generous – and unnecessary if using historical tactics.
  • The rules on the application of command points are unclear in a couple of key areas. (Inexcusable, given how crucial that is to the game system.) Fortunately, whatever reasonable interpretation you might apply to cover the cracks will do fine, as the application should affect each side equally.
  • The morale boost for keeping close to another unit from the same regiment, doesn’t seem as if it is enough to reward historical play. On the other hand, maybe there should be a penalty for not having friends on hand.
  • Combat quickly wears units down. Even the highest quality units cannot endure too much.
  • A fresh reserve is a powerful resource.
  • The difficult terrain of this battle is a major, er, obstacle. (I’m curious to try this system out in another environment.)
  • The available formations for the infantry are line and column. Given the scale, there could (and probably should) be an option for an extended or skirmish line, allowing units to reduce their vulnerability to fire, as well as their own effectiveness. At that point, even the existing command control ranges would be put under strain.

It’s been enjoyable revisiting this game. I don’t recall playing it much more after it first came out (1985), but I am glad I went back to it. Suffice it to say, I intend to play the next scenario with all the advanced rules and see how that turns out.