First 'home turf' game of the year took place previous Saturday. And indeed 'home turf' it was in double meaning of the word, since we run yet antoher ACW scenario from Partizan Press 'Hearthland' scenario book and with 'They couldn't hit an elephant' ruleset. The well-trodden path one could easily believe... which makes the events that took place so much more peculiar. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The scenario I picked for our game is one of the most interesting in the 'Heartland' scenario book. It's based on first battle of Iuka and it’s actually something so rare as a true meeting engagement. A smaller, but qualitatively much better Southern force of eight regiments and assorted artillery tries to escape the clutches of a numerically superior, but rather green Northern force divided in two columns. Also, the terrain is something of a challenge in this one with all woods being difficult terrain, thus limiting possible advance avenues, but at the same time creating some opportunities for more 'adventurous' players.
The game objective of Rebels is to secure at least two thirds of the road stretch starting with their entry point and ending with the entry point the Union force meeting them head on. I marked the spot which I decided would be the ‘watershed mark’ with the red X on the topmost picture.
I run the game with my usual modifications to the rules – poker chits activated the leaders instead of cards and there was equal number of chits for both sides in the bag, with dummy chits balancing the number for the side with fewer number of leaders (in this case a single dummy chit was added for the Confederate side). As usual, I started the game with three coffee chits. That number was reduced to two coffee chits once first casualty was suffered by muskeet fire and finally to one coffee chit after first rout. This modification increases the friction slowly as the action heats up. Also, for some unexplainable reason I decided this time around to run the game without any blinds – all units would deploy in march columns from the start. Finally I decided we would run the game for 15 rounds with a possibility of extending the game based on a D6 dice throw before each round above 15. A 6 would end the game on round 15, 6 and 5 on round 16, and so on…
Well, let’s move on to the pictures and see what we can make of them.
The initial eight or nine rounds were spent on sluggish march to contact – a consequence of me deciding not to use blinds and made worse by further mixups regarding the rules. More about that in final analysis of the game. Here we see the situation around round 5. The Northern force that is deployed on the board actually did start the game deployed in column of march on the road, with foremost unit standing close to the red ‘x’. Hå., acting cautiously and waiting for appearance of his second brigade, started deploying his regiments almost immediately into line. L., commanding the Confederates acted a bit more agressively, moving his foremost brigade quickly toward the enemy present on the battlefield. It became obvious rather quickly that he intended to use his second brigade to hold flanking Union column at bay. As things turned out, that brigade was severly delayed by bad chip draws.
More of the same. Hå. throws his skirmishers forward as L. deploys his front brigade into line. On the side road we can see avangarde troops of Union flanking force, a small cavalry regiment. Main force of that column is still to appear on the field.
L.s frontal assault goes in and manages to push back entire Union brigade. Actually it was a pretty even fight, with superior numbers of Union regiments and well-ordered formation almost halting the Rebel advance. But in the end experience carried the day. L. had to repeat his agressive charges three times, final assault being carried out by a single regiment before…
…this happened. The final chage of a single Confederate regiment routed its Union opponents, and quite badly so. This sudden collapse of morale spread like a virus throughout the entire brigade, which promply skedaddled in total panic to the rear. I’ve never seen something like that in a TCHAE game and to be honest, it was quite fascinating to see how rout rules triggered one regimental collapse after another. For precious moment the road to escape was free for the Rebels.
In the meantime, to the rear of this intense action, the terrain made things very difficult for both sides. He.’s regiments moved very slowly toward the Confederate blocking force. When contact was finally made, everyone was hindered by miserable terrain, making effective troop deployment very difficult. The result was a typical, inconclusive engagement where both sides suffered casualties, but noone could achieve the upper hand.
For a short while, things hang in the balance at the focal point of the battle. Funnily, it was the rules that decided that no breakthrough would be achieved by the Rebels – at a critical moment in the game a situation occured where if the first leader to be activated was the commander of the Union brigade that routed, it would trigger mandatory rout move for all broken regiments. That would remove entire brigade from the battlefield. On the other hand, if Union Commander in Chief were to be activated, the rout movement would not be triggered and he’d have time to restore order among his routed troops. Luckily for Hå., his commander in chief’s chit was the first to be drawn, followed promptly by chit activating commander of his second brigade. This gave him chance to not only recover his routed brigade but also to set up a stabilizing line of blue-clad troops between his broken brigade and the Rebels.
At that time we reached the end of round 15. With everyone somewhat exhausted and realizing that we would not be able to achieve conclusive result in remaining time (up to six extra rounds), we halted the game and called it a draw.
Musings after the battle
The fact is that the outcome of our game was pretty close to the historical events – Confederates pushed back Union line (which in the real battle took up position on the heights where Confederate artillery is set up in the final picture), but then run out of steam. However, the battle was then aborted by approach of the evening and in the darkness, the Union troops apparently panicked and abandoned their position, leaving the field and open escape route to the rebels.
This however is a very small and unimportant side note. The really important thing consists of a disclosure of a very significant aspect of this game - for some unexplainable reason, I managed to completely scramble ‘They Couldn’t Hit An Elephant’ in this game into something that can only be described as Frankensteinian hodgepodge of at least two, possibly three different rulesets. To begin with, I completely re-arranged the turn sequence, allowing troops to shoot when they shouldn’t have, move when they shoudn’t be allowed to and executed assaults at incorrect time. I also incorrectly limited allowed movement of troops by at least two thirds, slowing the events of the game to snail pace. Finally, I’ve gotten into my head that all troops that participate in an assault are automatically disrupted. This, I’m pretty sure was a ‘crossover’ from rules of a board game (‘This Accursed Civil War’ by GMT) which I haven’t played in ages!!! The result of this particular shortwiring of my brain resulted in L.’s charge never gaining the momentum it could have gained. Go figure…
Here’s the funny thing though! Despite me totally bungling my role as game master, we still managed to have a pretty good fun. Once I discovered my multiple fumbles somewhere in the middle of the game, the lads were totally understanding and we simply agreed to continue the game to its conclusion with all my unintentional ammendments ‘in play’. And this brings me to perhaps the only really important conclusion one can draw from this particular game – it’s not the rules applied with military precision, masterly painted miniatures or diorama quality terrain that make for a good game, but the friends you play it with.
That being said, the Iuka scenario has so much potential for an interesting and challenging game that L. and I decided to run it again this Saturday, this time around with correct rules. So stay tuned for Iuka Redux.