Recently on the table, Last Chance for Victory, Dean Essig‘s regimental level game about the battle of Gettysburg, produced by MMP under The Gamers brand.
This is a big game – four standard sized maps, more than 2,000 (half-inch square) counters, system rule book, battle book, scenario book, two order of arrival booklets, and play aids – but much has been done to make it accessible to those who are space challenged. For example, in addition to the four maps, there is a separate 1st day map and a separate 2nd/3rd day map, allowing you to play the whole shooting match without needing the space for four maps. As another example, several of the (20+) scenarios are not particularly large and won’t need a week in a mountain retreat to finish.
The physical components are generally excellent with one notable exception. OK, maybe two.
First, I found it difficult to distinguish the shading in some parts of the maps so as to work out what level was higher and what level was lower.
Second, the rules have no index. Yes, they need one.
Of course, given how long it has taken me to get this to the table properly, the game’s physical charms may be moot as it is out of print. Shame.
The system – called Line of Battle – replaces the earlier Regimental Series and endeavors to speed up play while maintaining as much historicity as is reasonable. For example, defensive fire is replaced by an Opening Volley rule that still generates casualties for the attacker, but is way faster and much easier. As another example, the close combat elements are rolled up into the Charge rules which automate the defender’s initial casualties and let everything else be determined by a morale check. This is also fast and seamlessly gives you the type of battlefield chaos reminiscent of the real thing. A top-notch unit may flee from the field at first contact, and a unit of dubious value may imitate the veritable stone wall.
Command and control is a major part of the system. This has been refined (the rules are now version 2.0) so as to be less of a burden. I like the effect of the whole command and control section because it removes some of the effects arising from the player’s perfect knowledge of the game. For example, there’s a nifty wee rule about brigades with dud commanders which means that, on the attack, they may not do what you want. Cool! And it can be frustrating, but realistic, to see golden opportunities for attacks that you cannot take because the forces are obeying orders to do other things.
I played through the 1st day scenario to a conclusion and it was a blast. Be aware that there are a lot of special rules to recreate the historical environment. For example, the CSA forces start with a restricted reconnaissance to replicate that they did not know the real life situation. Without that, gamers simply charge at full steam against the enemy. Similarly, the Union forces cannot just fall back and hide until their reinforcements turn up. While these rules are a bit fiddly, they are worth it. You get a good sense of the struggle. And there’s still plenty of action.
I have heard some criticism of the system such as the absence of defensive fire making it too attacker oriented. However, as the design notes mentioned, I found that a well placed counter by the defending forces was required to maintain the line and was evocative of the period. That having been said, the Opening Volley seems a tad less lethal than it should be. I may tinker with that next time out.
If you want regimental level ACW action, this is a system you must try. Fast, fun, frenetic, and full of history. Just great.
(And, as usual, it set me off on a reading frenzy about the battle. Again.)