More Chickamauga

Early on the first day, Brannan's Division is set to clobber Pegram (top left), while Bragg gathers his forces for his assault (middle right).

Early on the first day, Brannan’s Division is set to clobber Pegram (middle left), while Bragg gathers his forces for his assault (middle right).

On the table is Chickamauga – about the September 1863 ACW battle of that name – a Jon Southard design, published by West End Games.

Hexes are 275 yards across, turns are 45 minutes, and units are mostly brigades. There are no artillery units, these having been taken account of in rendering the infantry unit strengths.

It is an “I go, you go” system with some command and control limitations popped on top. For example, to get units to move, they either have to be given a command, or have to be in contact. Commands costs CPs, and these are available by random die roll each turn, and a certain potential amount from planning done by the higher level leaders. The effect is to constrain what the players can do, with a certain amount of chaos.

The combat system uses hits – each unit can take 10 – to show the attritional effects. You need to judge when it is time to get units out of danger and allow them to recover. However, recovery takes time, and no unit can completely recover.

I prefer the combat system here to the detail of the Gamers’ Brigade Series, because it is easier to play, there is no bookkeeping, and it gives a realistic impression. The bookkeeping alone would not be a deal breaker, but the Brigade Series has stragglers and casualties, thus complicating matters more than I want. In this game, there is no ‘breaking’ of divisions or Corps Attack Stoppage. However, most players are going to look at a division accumulating too many hits, and do the right thing. OK, I did say ‘most.’

I like the idea behind the command and control system, however I would prefer it were less gamey. For example, in the planning part you can assign points to a future turn to a wing leader. However, you do not need to specify what the points are for. So, at the time of the plan you might be intending to order Division A. But come the time, you might want to give the order to Division B. On Consimworld, I think it was Steve Parker who hinted at a house rule restricting the use of planning points by specifying their use in advance. I have tried that and like it. It still has rough edges, but works OK.

One driver behind getting this and Barren Victory on the table was Dave Powell‘s book, The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle. (Highly recommended, but be aware it is only the first volume. I have ordered the second.) Reading the battle history, there are constant descriptions of units and leaders blundering about, not knowing where the enemy were exactly, and not that sure about their own forces, either. Flank attacks happened from chance sometimes. That is difficult to reproduce without adding another layer of complexity, like randomized movement. But I did wonder if a double blind umpired version, especially with a free setup at the start, might get close to it. (Yes, it would be hard work.) Another option might be to use the two map, double blind system from GDW.

I have played through the first day scenario once – a Confederate win – and am restarting because there are a couple of aspects I want to try a different approach with. The hit markers are a bit fiddly, but otherwise the game plays smoothly, and is good fun. The core system promised a bit, though it sadly died out.

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Western Front Tank Leader

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I’m not sure how to explain this. One minute I am sorting the counters for Avalanche Press’ Kursk; South Flank game, and the next thing I know I have set up West End GamesWestern Front Tank Leader. Hmmm.

This is a WW2 tactical combat game, with 150 meter hexes and platoon sized units. The original system came from John Hill (of Squad Leader fame) but this particular game was designed by Leonard Quam. It came out around 1987. The game uses cards – with different Command and Control ratings – to activate formations, and has a nifty battle conditions system to vary the playing conditions of the scenarios. There is a basic game – with tanks only catered for – and an advanced game which brings in infantry and most of everything else you would expect to see.

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The game features different troop quality and morale, tactical doctrine, and the fog and chaos of war. It is very playable solitaire. I don’t like the maps because I would prefer a historical module, but that’s one area that will have to wait and see if the series is revived. (There has been some talk of this.)

If I could ever swing it, I’d like to do a Ph. D. on tactical level WW2 combat games, because the subject fascinates me. I would really like to have the time and resources to properly analyse the available games, play each of them to death, and see if I could finish a design of my own. Every game has its champions, but to me the field remains open for a clear contender to arise. Funnily enough, in some quarters this is seen as one of the best, though the counter graphics are less than inspiring – even allowing for it being produced 25 years ago.

So, it’s on the table, and I am mucking about with it; playing some of the scenarios and trying a few ideas out for fun and entertainment.

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