April 11, 2017

‘Guns at Gettysburg’–initial impressions

Upplagd av Minondas

So let’s discuss ‘Guns of Gettysburg’ for a moment. After one game it is hardly possible to draw any definite conclusions, but my initial impression is definitely very positive. However, it’s not all smooth sailing and even this single game disclosed some ‘holes’ that I know will be bugging me in the future.

The ‘game engine’

‘Guns of Gettysburg’ is a derivative of Partizan Press’ Napoleonic ruleset ‘General de Brigade’ and its origins shine right through even after a single game. If one were crass, it could be said that there really is no justification for ‘Guns of Gettysburg’ to have been released as a separate ruleset, since it’s pretty much ‘General de Brigade’ tweaked to work in ACW period.

I have once upon a time posted my thoughts about ‘General de Brigade’ and its game mechanics. These comments are still valid and may serve well readers wishing to get a better insight into that ruleset. Here, I will limit myself with short walkthrough through a game turn and then concentrate on differences between two rulesets.

The turn sequence in ‘Guns of Gettysburg’ is exactly the same as in ‘General de Brigade’:

    1. Initiative roll where opposing players roll 2D6 who’s gonna have initiative in this particular turn. The initiative give the winner right to be the first to send out new orders to his brigades, declare charges, move his troops and shoot in fire phase.
    2. Change of orders phase - CinC for each side may attempt to change orders for a single brigade. One brigade commander may attempt to change his orders on own initiative.
    3. Mandatory moves - all units trying to get away from the battlefield, as well as units in so called pursuit state move at this stage. This is done ‘simultaneously’ by both sides.
    4. Charge declarations and movement - here things start to get a bit messy. Any charges are declared and if passed, the units so ordered move into contact. This stage is a bit fiddly, as reactions of units on defensive depend a lot on the distance that needs to be covered by the chargers. But in simple terms, if charge can be completed, chargers move half the distance, then defenders choose their actions, which most often is either shoot or evade. Next chargers check their morale and if it is passed, defenders need to do the same. If everyone is still willing, the two sides come into contact and a melee is fought at later stage of the turn.
    5. Normal movement - pretty self-explanatory. Side with initiative moves first.
    6. Firing - everyone who hadn’t shot yet, has a chance to do it now. Side with initiative shoots first, the side without initiative does so after reduction of strength due to losses (which may not be to everyone’s liking).
    7. Melee phase - any melees are processed at this stage.
    8. Morale checks - any units and brigades that need to make a morale check, do it at the end of the phase. Failed checks may result in anything from formation disruptions to ordered retreats and complete routs.

        Any dice rolls in ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ are done with two six-sided dices. The game engine is pretty dice-heavy - all morale checks, firing and melees are decided with dices and even with few units, the amount of rolls does mount up. At the same time, once one gets the grasp of the basics, the game moves along rapidly, without major hick-ups. Consistent use of 2D6:s throughout the ruleset simplifies things and the amount of dice modifiers is kept within reason.

        The new stuff

        As already mentioned above, ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ isn’t really all that different from ‘General de Brigade’. Here and there one can spot small tweaks in the ranges and casualty tables. Some modifications have been done to the dice roll modifiers (some of them are a bit surprising and maybe even questionable, more on that later on). If anything, it’s the parts that have been removed from ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ that are making the biggest difference in my opinion - a lot of fiddly rules related directly to Napoleonic period have been yanked out of its ACW derivative. Ironically, in my opinion, these removal seem to have a positive effect of providing much smoother gameplay!

        There are two significant changes that need to be mentioned. The first is related to formations; squares are no longer available for infantry - a reasonable and hardly surprising decision. Two new formations have also been added. The first - open order - allows the regimental lines to extend their width. This is clearly an attempt to reflect more flexible character of linear formations during ACW and a very justified addition. Addition of second formation - brigade attack column - is a bit harder to justify. It allows regiments of a brigade to ‘stack’ one behind the other, with bonuses to morale when casualties are taken. Clearly, it’s an assault formation intended for brigades with orders to charge the enemy. To my best knowledge, such battering rams were organized on few occasions during the conflict and were hardly a standard modus operandi for ACW armies. Therefore, I’m not entirely convinced that this addition is really necessary.

        The other significant change when compared with ‘General de Brigade’ is of far more importance. Section regarding skirmishers has gone through significant overhaul. In ‘General de Brigade’ there are three options to use skirmishers - throw out light companies as screens for individual battalions, create a brigade screen of combined light companies of a brigade or use light battalions as skirmishers. In ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ options for use of skirmishers have been significantly extended. Individual regiments can deploy into skirmish order either completely or with half of its strength. Brigade screens can consist of up to fifty percent of strength of regiments, with variable number of troops committed from individual units. Perhaps most importantly, skirmishers are no longer regarded as separate formations, but can be deployed and recalled by parent regiments at will. This change is yet again reflecting differences in tactics of the two periods. Added choices deepen the complexity of tactical deployment and I suspect it will take me a while to understand cons and advantages of these new options.

        Other changes to the ruleset aren’t all that dramatic, but couple of things did provoke a reaction from me. On the positive side, the ‘double-six’ rule has been modified and expanded upon. In ‘General de Brigade’, any roll of two sixes in firing or melee phases could cause additional effects on units and generals. In ‘Guns at Gettysburg’, this mechanism extends to all rolls in the game and may give the players ‘bonus cards’ that can be played at subsequent stages of the game. Player may for example move a brigade of his choice at double time, add a one time bonus modifier to his fire/melee dice-roll or call for a morale check with negative modifier upon an enemy unit of his choice. All such actions are ‘one time events’, gained randomly after a roll of a double six. While this game mechanism in itself strikes me as rather gamey, it’s obvious it adds to the fun factor.

        On negative side, few of the modifiers did make me raise an eyebrow in wonderment. One I’m very sceptical to deals with effect of overall losses in regimental morale checks. As default, for each ten percent losses a -1 is added to the morale check dice roll. But… Confederate regiments have here a maximum cap of -3, which definitely gives them an edge in a prolonged firefight. As a compensation, Confederate units rout do suffer a -2 modifier when attempting to rally. And since the rally from rout can only be made once with either success or dispersion of unit as possible outcomes, it is a significant penalty. The designer, apparently aware that these modifiers will be discussed, addresses them specifically in his notes and explains that it’s a simple attempt to differentiate both sides from each other. But at the same time, in his opinion at least, this difference is justified by historical performance of both sides. Well… I will be honest and admit that I am not at all convinced by that explanation. Luckily, it’s an aspect of the ruleset that can be tweaked to one’s heart’s content.

        What seems to be missing

        Actually, ‘missing’ may not be the right term here, but the rules dedicated to cavalry do strike me as a little bit funny. They are very detailed and a lot of space is dedicated to charges, formations and so on… but they all seem to be a carry-over from ‘General de Brigade’ and as we all know, the role of cavalry was very different in ACW from that during Napoleonic Wars. And so, I find it peculiar that cavalry charges are dealt with in detail, but behavior of dismounted cavalry is barely touched upon. This oversight was starkly illustrated in my game, where Union troopers were charged by Confederate infantry. This situation isn’t even considered in melee rules - charge and melee procedures between infantry/artillery on both sides and cavalry as charging party are described in detail, but there is nothing about charges against dismounted cavalry troopers. A slight gap in otherwise solid ruleset, but annoying nonetheless.

        Final observations

        As already said in my reaction immediately after the inaugural game, my initial impression of ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ was very positive. The ruleset is comprehensible and detailed, but didn’t get in the way of the game flow. Some glitches did occur, but nothing major. One thing that I liked very much was in the formating of the ruleset - on a couple of occasions I needed an answer to some very specific questions and every time I found a clearly labeled section dedicated specifically to that aspect of the game. On the other hand, lack of printed number pages in the ruleset is seriously annoying.

        At the same time it must be remarked that ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ is a stripped down and slightly altered version of ‘General de Brigade’. So in it’s core it is still a very formulaic ruleset based on traditional and old-fashioned game mechanisms. So why did I like ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ so much, while ‘General de Brigade’ failed to impress me? I must be honest and admit that my initial reaction to ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ may very well be simply caused the fact that it is something of a relief to use something different than TCHAE for an ACW game. Further research is needed, so stay tuned...

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