Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Germantown 1777 - Decision Games

 
This is the sister game to Decision Game's Saratoga. It is early October and the British have captured Philadelphia and then dispersed some of their force to deal with the forts along the Delaware River. Washington saw an opportunity to attack the weakened British main body at Germantown.

 
 

Notes about the system itself can be found in the recent Saratoga post (see Resource section below).

This post simply concerns itself with an AAR of Germantown together with some observational notes about the scenario.

Please use the 'read More' tab for the rest of this post.
Germantown shares the 17" x 11" map format, 40 game counters and the Quick Play Musket and Saber rules as presented in the Saratoga game. Having just played and blogged about the Saratoga game, it made sense to crack open Germantown, while the rules were fresh in my head. Everything that applies system wise to the Saratoga game applies here.

Special scenario rules include the fog (also used in Saratoga), a capability for the British to turn Chew House into a bastion and Colonial ammunition shortages.

 

Setting up. The situation is very interesting. Germantown occupies three hexes and is roughly in the centre of the map. Chew House is identified by the large red solid hexagon on nearby high ground. The British begin the game in their encampments on the high ground immediately behind Germantown.

If the Colonials are in Market Square (the middle of Germantown) or on a British encampment at the end of any British Combat Phase, then the Colonials win a sudden death major victory.

 

If the British manage to remove all Colonial forces from the map, then they win a major victory. Outside of that, victory is based upon the number of casualties.

The British have two battalions out in front, covering the roads to Germantown and a third Hessian battalion out on the left flank.

The Colonials start off map and 5 formations enter at 4 specified locations, giving various attack directions. Their first turn of movement is potentially significantly reduced with a combination of entry penalties and fog. Washington and the artillery can be set up with any formation and I chose to have them enter with Greene along Limekiln Road (lower right formation on the map).

Although the opening looks difficult for the British, two of the Colonial stacks are militia (light blue) and they have to pass morale checks to become adjacent to an enemy, so that might produce some nuances that at moments will favour the British.

There is a nice little touch with the three British commanders starting the game ensconced at the Rising Sun Tavern, no doubt studiously studying their maps! 

 

The British order of battle is significantly different than the Saratoga game, because here most of their forces are full regiments rather than battalions, so the army is less fragile and less subject to becoming ineffective if they retreat (like battalions, leaders and artillery do). The British are without artillery and the Colonials only have one such unit.

Please note, I will be using the term 'British' generically to include all forces under that players control.

With the scene set, we move on.

Opening turns. The Colonials always go first and on turns one and two fog is automatically present, it will clear randomly during play, only to possibly return towards the end of the game. Turn 1 also limits British movement to 1 hex.  With attacks coming in from several directions, the British situation looks potentially stretched, they need to defend their encampments, but also need to defend further forward and hold Market Square in the middle of Germantown. 

Their infantry battalions out in front are useful in cutting down the amount of March Movement (double movement) that the colonials can do, as such units have to stay 2 hexes away from the enemy. However, today, the British linger too long and these battalions become engaged in fighting and are quickly removed from play. This will become a significant loss for the British player, as it is only battalions that can turn Chew House into a bastion. I think it would have been better for the battalions to fall back and for one to turn Chew House into a stronghold.

On the British flanks, militia forces threaten, but they have low morale and need to roll against that morale to enter an enemy zone of control. However, on the left they manage that and the combat result is an 'Exchange', which removes the single step Hessian battalion from play.

Washington leads his forces down Limekiln Lane, his first engagement at Lucan's Mill, easily pushes the enemy aside, but there is some consternation as he has to roll for leaders death (1 in 3 chance). He survives the roll (EDIT - one of many moments in this game that could have changed the course of play).

As the British see several points of threat, Howe takes the Guards to Chew House and cavalry reinforcements arrive (Queens Rangers) on the right, just in time to move on the Rising Sun Tavern and cover the British right flank. 

By turn 3, the fog has lifted. 4th Brigade and Grant are surrounded at Kelly's Hill. They are forced to retreat and find themselves pushing through an enemy Zone of Control. This results in a step loss and their routing. Washington has brought his forces adjacent to Market Square rather promptly.

 


Mid game. Everywhere there is a sense of urgency on the British part. 3rd and 4th Brigade manoeuvre against Washington to keep him out of Market Square, on the left 1st Brigade and the Hessians move into the woods to clear out the Militia threat and on the right, Small's militia are engaged to isolate them from threatening that flank. The Guard, being in danger of being cut off, pull back from Chew House. The British line is getting squeezed. 

The Colonials start to suffer the special rule of low ammunition. At the start of a turn, the British can select a fixed number (grows each turn) of enemy units that must test their morale. Failures result in a disruption marker, simulating low ammunition.

While the British left involves itself in the woods, a Colonial regiment skirts that flank and threatens the encampments, while on the other side of the hill, Small's regiment (militia) pass their morale check and move into contact with the British right flank, threatening those encampments. With these victory areas (and Market Square) so hardly pressed, the British are in full expectation of immediate collapse of their position.

 

However, at the most vulnerable part of their line, two of their enemy units go out of ammunition (disrupted effects), while on their left, both militia regiments fail their morale checks, so cannot advance to contact. Directly in front of Germantown, Washington does not feel strong enough to attack and so the British get this incredible reprieve from certain loss.

In a bid to crack the centre, Stirling takes two Colonial regiments forward supported by the artillery. The defenders lose a step, but hold their ground.

 

End game. The Colonials make two serious attacks. Firstly Sullivan attacks Market Square, pushing the British out, but 2nd and 3rd Brigade counter-attack and recapture the critical square, though both sides lose their leaders (Howe and Sullivan). Secondly, the encampments on the British right are assaulted by Green, but the attack is repulsed. 

There is a further re-juggling of the British line which is becoming increasingly strained. In turn 8 (penultimate turn), the ammunition situation is potentially critical for the Colonials, five units must test, but amazingly they all pass. Washington leads three regiments to capture Market Square, again supported by guns. He captures the square and again a counter-attack ejects him. 

 

The system's combat table uses primary and secondary results. So for example in this last counter-attack, the primary result is a retreat test, if the subject fails the test they retreat, but if they pass they stand and the secondary effect is applied, in this case an 'Exchange', so had Washington's men passed their test, instead of retreating, they would have taken a step loss, keeping Market Square in their possession and winning the game at the end of the British Combat Phase. This game is really tense and tight and such nuances keep the game engaging.

On the last turn fog descends again and this time all five out of ammunition rolls fail, making the colonial force on front of Germantown seriously deficient. They attack and once again force the British out of Market Square, but their disrupted status does not allow them to advance after combat. They have one more opportunity. On the British right, Greene takes his colonials up against the British encampments on the hill and captures a hex, but in the British part of the turn, he is pushed back out and so as the game ends, neither side have achieved their major victory conditions and so that matter is decided on casualties.

The colonials have lost 1 unit and 1 leader. The British have lost 5 units and 1 leader, giving the Colonials a minor victory. 

Conclusions. Everyone has a few battles that for no particular reason grabs their fancy more than others and this is one of mine, so I was looking forward to playing even before setting up and I must say that this didn't fail in providing an exciting game.

The scenario victory condition that the Colonials must still occupy a victory hex at the end of the British Combat Phase, ensures desperate counter-attacks and adds a good deal of tension to the game, though quite how the British might remove all of their enemy from the map for their major victory condition, I am not at all certain.

In both Saratoga and Germantown, the British have the higher number of battalion formations. Being quite fragile, these inevitably add to the casualty rate and disproportionately give the British more casualties, so when VP's are assessed, the odds are stacked against them. I will need to play more games to see whether this is making the games pro-Colonial.

The low ammo rule causes disruption, which is normally removed (either automatically if 2 hexes away from an enemy or otherwise by a morale test) at the end of a units movement and therefore before its combat. However during play I felt it surely needed to be present until after the Colonials Combat Phase, but the rules don't express that - anyway, that's the way I played. On reflection and accepting that disruption can continue across more than one turn unless the unit gets out of the line, then perhaps the absence of any such ruling simply means that 'out of ammo' disruption is tested for removal in the usual way. (i.e. after movement but before fire). Something for me to ask the designer I think.

By the mid game, I was convinced that the game was over for the British and indeed it could have gone that way, but there are enough twists and turns (read chaos) that nothing can be counted on for being certain, I really like that.

The amount of game here for just the involvement of 34 game units plus 6 markers is pretty notable. The nuances that come out of strong but low morale militia, light troops, battalion sized units, units going ineffective after retreat (just leaders, artillery and battalions), primary and secondary combat results, plus scenario special rules etc makes for interesting play.

This is a compact game that plays well solitaire in under two hours, with what I would consider to be a complexity rating of 2 out of 5. This package is well suited to vacations or when working away from home, at £10 it is worth a dabble and I think the Germantown situation makes for a better game than Saratoga.
  
All that is written here needs to be tempered by some of the rule management problems that I have previously encountered,  but have already been covered adequately in my Saratoga post (see Resource Section below).


Resources:
Blog article on the Saratoga Game that includes combat table errata. LINK

Note, I also run a sister website called COMMANDERS LINK

10 comments:

  1. Much action for not much loss of life. Besides, Howe and Sullivan that is. Excellent recounting of the battle and a very tense situation as players repeatedly took and then lost crucial objectives. Very enjoyable! Thanks.

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  3. Excellent post.
    Now that I have my hexes up, I might just look for the Musket & Saber rules online and try to use them with miniatures.
    (Also just read your article in miniature wargames and enjoyed very much.)

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  4. Thanks. I was thinking about getting Kallistra AWI (12mm) and then using on hexes with the counters in the game next to the units, so that all the ratings etc are there. The counters are only small, so they would be no more obtrusive than dice , yet give more info.

    I would not have enough space to represent a full mini map, but a goodly proportion could be done.

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    1. Reading more and more about these 'Decision Games modules' and liking what I see. I seem to have found a download of the rules. Might need to grab/estimate some unit ratings, but it's definitely worth a punt - as I'm stuck with (wait - blessed with) the hexes for the next 11 weeks.

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    2. DdG, you can get the unit ratings for Germantown from BoardGameGeek. Photos of the counters are there for the viewing.

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    3. Brilliant Jonathan. Thanks for that.

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  5. Great write up, thanks for sharing.

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  6. It shows. If you read Boardgame geek folks seem to hate anything Decision. I bought this game based on your write up and really have enjoyed it.
    Thanks!

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  7. David, glad the purchase met your expectations based on my article. I only ever write about things I like, so in that respect, I don't do critical reviews and so the games I play sometimes get an easy ride from me here. The rules do need a deeper reading, but I thought the situation in this game was a bit of a gem and most definitely worth its money.

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