Gettysburg - the full three days using the Clash of Giants System, designed by Ted Racier and published by GMT. This game is from the third module in the series. The first two were WWI titles (published 2002 and 2008) and so it has been interesting to see the system move to the American Civil War.
We get two battles in our box, one Gettysburg (obviously) and the other is 2nd Bull Run, giving one game that has been done many times before and the other that has not received as much attention as it might.
The rest of this post discusses the essential elements of this interesting system and covers an AAR of the Gettysburg game to highlight some of the design features.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
The box comes with two nicely presented maps in which the aesthetic and the functional have been thoughtfully melded together. I particularly like the way that high and higher ground have been clearly done. The two counter sheets give 5/8 counters which sit nicely in the large hexes. They are not cluttered and the font used on the game values will be appreciated by older eyes.
The basic rules are only 11 pages long (9 if you discount the usual pre-amble that explains the basics of maps and units etc). They are not illustrated, but nicely spaced and make for a good and easy read. The playbook includes the specific rules for each battle, together with scenario information and some really nicely illustrated examples of play. The specific rules for 2nd Bull run are shorter, while the Gettysburg special rules and scenario information run to an additional 4 pages.
The package is rounded out with the usual play aids, dice and self seal storage bags for the counters.
The hex scale is slightly different for each game, but for Gettysburg it is 270 metres to the hex. Our counters are brigades and a turn represent 3 - 6 hours (though the box says 4 - 8 hours), and so the 5 turns that represent Day 1 are labelled as; Late Morning, Early Afternoon, Late afternoon, Evening and Night.
For those who have played Gettysburg systems that use hourly turns, this higher level of representation does set a different pace and in my opening game, as the Union player, I got caught out concentrating my forces in support of Buford at McPherson’s Ridge, only to find that Rhodes and Early advanced onto the map from the North on turn 2 (early afternoon), pushing through an invitingly exposed Gettysburg, unhinging the McPherson’s Ridge defence and then threatening the important and also exposed Cemetery Hill and Culps Hill positions. I will comment further on this later in the post.
There are some interesting design elements to the game. The way units and combat are represented being perhaps the most important. There are two values on the counters. The first as usual is strength, but here, strength also equals the number of steps, so in effect this value is showing the size of the unit, certainly an important factor when representing ACW Orders-of Battle and something that miniature players invariably find in their ACW rules. The second figure is called the Tactical Efficiency Rating (TER), which is a sort of morale / training / capability type of value.
In combat, involved units actually roll individually against their own TER to see how successful they are. To fail causes the testing unit to flip to its weaker side and then if they are the defender, retreat a number of hexes that is the difference between the units TER and the value rolled on the dice i.e. you retreat by how much you failed by. Regardless, a die roll of 6 is always an auto fail and 1 is an auto pass. The whole point is that influencing factors of that battle will modify a units ability to pass this test.
It can feel strange with 1-1 or a 2-1 attack odds being so common, because most games drive you to look for higher odds, but here, since it is passing the TER test that matters most, getting a simple 2-1 attack is often acceptable as it will modify the TER test die roll enough to matter. The AAR below will run through a combat example to better explain this process.
The other aspect is the step loss you also get from any fail of the TER test in combat. The combat can be bloody and formations can become burned out relatively quickly, becoming brittle, giving fresh reserves their rightful importance, which feels right with turns being 3 - 6 hours long.
Combat is generally voluntary, but becomes mandatory for a unit at a lower elevation adjacent to a unit at a higher elevation, if both those hexes can be described as having open terrain. At the end of the Operations Phase, units that remain in such a position (adjacent at the lower level) must retreat 4 hexes. Apparently this is to reflect the dangers of being immediately below an enemy in open ground, which was a situation that was not sustainable over many hours. With game turns equalling 3 - 6 hours (or 4 - 8, who knows?), this makes sense and the dynamic of high ground is somewhat different in this Gettysburg game than others I have played and I like the way that it adds significance to the value of holding those clear ridges.
The handling of Bufords cavalry at McPherson’s Ridge is nicely dealt with by relatively simple mechanics. In the game, cavalry are not allowed to attack infantry and they have a low combat value. Their management is all about being able to disengage by retreating before combat, absorbing and slowing the Confederate advance and the mechanic makes the use of cavalry in this battle and situation feel period correct. How effective Buford will be is dependent on his forces passing their TER tests to disengage before combat and of course with that 3 - 6 hours per turn design feature, they would in effect only need to slow the Confederates for a couple of turns at most at McPherson’s Ridge to be historically representative as to how long this position held.
This is a chit pull system for activation of formations, which brings some good tension to the game, as you just hope your formations get drawn from the cup and put into play when you need them most. This mechanic is not unusual, but here there are times when additional chits (not placed in the cup) can be played to over-ride what comes out the cup and these represent specific elements of the battle, injecting some historical flavour without burdensome rules overhead. In some instances, this will allow the double activation of some units in a specific turn.
While a turn comprises of a series of several activations of formations as their chits are drawn, each player gets one single combat phase in a turn and they can call that phase at the conclusion of any one of their friendly activations. Judging the right moment to attack and certainly pre-empting enemy counter-moves brings an enjoyable aspect to play.
In some cases, by the playing of the additional formation chits mentioned above, a player will be able to move an individual formation and then immediately fight with it, without regard for the one off general attack phase allowed each turn, affording those formations two opportunities to attack in the turn. This is not common and their use should be maximised (says he who failed to do so!).
The town of Gettysburg has some effects on how a player will want or not want to adopt it into their line. Basically zones of control don’t exist in the town, which makes units very ‘slippy’ and it is easy to get caught out in there, though it does help with strategic movement. Defenders in there get a penalty in combat, nicely reflecting how the town interrupts a units ability to fight formed and ranked up (the scale does not overtly show skirmishing).
Finally, it is worth mentioning the random aspects of the game that can help bring a nice dose of chaos, reducing a gamers ‘all seeing eye’ and control and of course helping solitaire play.
Artillery is not physically represented in the game by unit counters. Rather all artillery chits of both sides are placed into a container at the start of each turn and half of them are drawn blindly and then issued to the respective players. These can be used during play to aid the formation they belong to, to modify the strength of an attack or defence. The designer says that this has allowed him to dispense with line of sight rules, which he dislikes. I quite like artillery units on the map, especially if they have rules that make them behave like artillery, but I don’t feel that their absence in this game and replacement by chits is particularly detrimental to my preferences, mainly because the effect of artillery is being shown over that 3 - 6 hour period and the designers application of artillery seems to work okay.
The arrival of reinforcements are always tested for and they may be delayed and then on arrival, their entry point on the map is tested for deviation, which may cause them to arrive on another road. Every formation always rolls for movement allowance. This can vary depending upon the formation in question and whether or not you have a special leader chit that gives a +1 to this testing die roll.
Taken together, since this is a meeting engagement, the randomness of arrival time, arrival location and the variable movement rate of a formation, as well as the order of activation from the draw cup, brings a very dynamic dimension to play and planning. The situation on the ground invariably has you trying to respond to something new and you have to hope that your troops on hand are fresh enough or strong enough to meet your demands and intentions.
The flip side (if that matters) is that a gamers historical expectations of where and when things from this well known battle will arrive, can be a little challenged, so there is a trade off between a dynamic replayable game, strict historical structure and historically possible variables. However the fact is that this is a game about Gettysburg and primarily it puts you in the boots of a commander being drawn into a meeting engagement that is turning into a major battle and that neither side fully understands the positions or potential of the other. To that extent, this game delivers that Gettysburg command perspective and experience.
AAR - Anyway, enough of the heavy stuff. Let’s get on with an AAR. I will try to keep this to a brief over view of the battle, but will expand some sections to give play examples that show what this system is about.
I played day one and the first turn of day two, face-to-face with Mike in a session that lasted just under three hours. I continued the rest of the game solitaire just to see how it might pan out.
Day 1 (July 1st)
It is late morning and we have Buford’s Union cavalry behind Willoughby Run, with two Confederate Brigades ready to press them. Near at Hand are two brigades from Reynolds I Corps, one being the Iron Brigade and the other Cutler. The rest of I Corps is off map and the Union player gets an extra command chit on this turn to make this corps more effective.
|I Corps over on the right, moving|
This is perhaps the only part of the battle that I know quite well, having put together a McPherson's Ridge scenario for figure gaming and of course have played Gettysburg as a boardgame many times before (who hasn’t!) and so I am a bit pre-conditioned to rushing I Corps onto the ridge to support Buford and then getting involved in an ongoing tussle there for control of the high ground.
However, we are at 3 - 4 hourly turns here, not the 1 hour and less turns that I have been used to and I knew from my previous play that on turn 2 (Early Afternoon) Confederate forces would be arriving from the North to threaten Gettysburg and beyond and that I might have nothing there to counter this. So on turn 1, I sent one of Union I Corps Brigades (Iron Brigade) to help Buford at McPherson’s Ridge, but sent the other to the road junction at the north end of Gettysburg, just to act as a road block against Confederate units arriving from the north on turn 2, that would be using Reinforcement road movement to get a jump on me.
This felt intuitively wrong, firstly because I was splitting I Corps between two tasks in two different spheres of influence on the map (McPherson’s Ridge and in front of Gettysburg), the second task I only knew about because I had learned the dangers of what was coming from the north in last weeks play and I felt that the historical opening to Gettysburg, in which I Corps race to support Buford against the Archer / Davis Brigades was not happening in the tactical way that I have become accustomed to.
But this pre-programmed mindset needs to be adjusted, so that you see the turn in the round, so here what we really have over a few hours is the likelihood that Cutler did indeed make McPherson’s Ridge, but that he was then diverted to cover the threat at Gettysburg and his rear, it’s just that all of this is being represented in a single turn with a looser tactical examination of these initial hours than I have been used to.
In any case, in this game, the defence of McPherson’s Ridge only needs to last a couple of turns because that position becomes totally unhinged by what follows with the Confederate pushing through Gettysburg, so it doesn’t become the obsessional focus in the opening part of the turn that is often the case and in some ways, the Union focus is in thinking of how to best extract the cavalry, while still causing delay, rather than losing them at the ridge in continued engagement.
Over the course of the day, a couple of formations (particularly Confederate) got delayed, but arrival locations tended to favour the North edge of the map (Bendersville Rd, Mummasburg Rd and Harrisburg Road) for the Confederates and the Taneytown Road (rather than the Emmitsburg Road) for the Union.
The effect of this was that by the end of the day, there was a greater concentration by both sides in the Gettysburg / Cemetery Hill part of the map, with the Confederate right flank / Union left flank along the Emmitsburg Road, through Peach Orchard and beyond much more under-developed and without immediate prospect of a Confederate threat of out-flanking in that part of the battlefield.
When reinforcements fail their delay test, they are compensated for their lack of presence on the battlefield by Delay Points. These will feed in to increase the number of casualties that the other player must gain for an automatic win.
Delays and a lack of concentration of force at the Divisional and Corps level by the Confederates had meant that the Union line had not really come under any serious pressure and by the end of the day, with Union reinforcements visibly streaming onto the battlefield, Mike felt that the Confederate position already felt lost. Visually I was getting the same impression. We had really enjoyed our play, it was very dynamic, with both players constantly involved and sometimes some breath-holding as dice were rolled.
As play goes into day two, the Confederates have earned 8 Victory Points for inflicting casualties and the Union 7 Victory Points. Overnight, units move normally, but combat is not allowed. A few Union units had to do a bit of fancy footwork to avoid being cut off and having to surrender.
|The battle lines at the end of Day 1|
Day 2. July
The Confederate plan is to make a concerted effort to concentrate forces in the centre and try and break through the Union line before it solidifies.
The Excelsior Brigade (Union 2 - 4) defends a wooded hill hex and is surrounded by three Confederate brigades (ouch!). Excelsior cannot claim cover from being on the the hill because one of the attacking brigades is on the same hill (i.e. at the same level) and the woods do not give a defensive bonus.
The attackers (Pender’s Division) did not draw their artillery chit at the start of the turn, but the Union can play one of their Reserve Artillery chits, giving the defenders strength a +1. So the attacker strength total is 6 and Excelsior is 2 +1 for the artillery, giving 3. This makes for a 2:1 attack. On the Combat Results Table, a 2:1 attack shows a ‘-1 / +1’ result, which means the defender adds +1 to the dice when testing their TER, while the Confederate attackers will deduct one for their tests.
Further, because Excelsior is surrounded, they count as being outflanked and so their TER drops by 2 as a penalty and therefore drops from 4 to 2, this makes them very vulnerable.
Now all we do to resolve the combat is have units test their own TER, defender first. The Union roll 6, which is an automatic fail. They would normally flip for a step loss and then retreat a number of hexes equal to the number between the die roll (6) and their modified TER (2), which here would mean retreating 4 hexes. However, they are surrounded and they don’t have any nearby friendly units that would negate enemy ZOC’s, so they are destroyed instead. This gives the Confederate 2 Victory Points, one for each step.
The Confederates must now run the same TER tests for their units, but their die roll will be modified by -1 for the 2:1 advantage they enjoyed. Scales (TER 4) rolls 1, which is an auto pass. Lane (TER 4) rolls 6, which is an auto fail. They flip, generating one Union Victory Point and then retreat the difference between their TER and the die roll, which is 2 hexes. Finally Perin (TER 4) rolls 4, modified by -1 for the 2:1 attack, making 3 and the unit passes.
EDIT - note attackers don't retreat after a failed combat, they just flip- thanks to John Ellsworth for the spot.
EDIT - note attackers don't retreat after a failed combat, they just flip- thanks to John Ellsworth for the spot.
Now, any attacker remaining adjacent to a vacated hex can advance into it. Overall, this attack cost the Confederates 1 step and the defenders 2 steps.
By late afternoon (turn 9), The Confederates have pushed the Union back onto the Peach Orchard - Cemetery Ridge - Culps Hill line. To the east (top of the map) Hood has got a foothold onto Culps Hill, though the Confederate lack of strength here prevents them trying to turn that into a collapse of the Union flank.
VI Corps (Union) are just arriving at the top of Baltimore Pike. They are a powerful formation, so the Union right can be protected if necessary, however this corps was Meade’s strategic reserve, not used in the actual battle, if the gamer uses it, then any step losses yield 2 Victory Points rather than the usual 1.
|VI Corps (Union) can just be seen at|
the very top of the board, as they enter play.
Hood fully takes Culps Hill, but elsewhere the Confederates are battering themselves against the Union Line and taking heavy casualties. The last attacks of the day come from the newly arrived McLaws Division, who throw their weight behind the Confederate attacks in the centre. They stretch the Union line, but it holds - just!
The Union contemplate what to do with the strategic reserve. they don’t really want to commit it to battle and decide to insert it just below Hood near Culps Hill, to firm up the Union right flank while hoping their strength discourages Hood from making further attacks.
As night approaches, the Confederates have score 22 Victory Points for inflicting casualties, with the Union being slightly ahead on 23. The Union line is now quite strong and the question is whether they should go over onto the offensive. Confederate confidence is dropping. They still have some decent division intact and it may be worth attacking Union VI corps to force their hand into entering the battle and hopefully yield their valuable VP’s. What will tomorrow bring?
It is early morning and the Confederates hesitate. They get the first three formation chits from the draw pot (Rodes, Heth and Pickett), but other than minor adjustments to the line, they don’t act. Then the Union XII Corps formation chit is drawn and they step down off Cemetery Ridge to engage Pickett, it is the signal that the Union intent is to go over onto the offensive.
McLaw launches a spoiling attack in the centre, creating a gap, but not having the strength or confidence to exploit it. At the lower part of the map Johnson just bounces off Birney!
At the very end of McPherson’s Ridge, Rodes occupies a wooded hill. Union V Corps attack, inflicting 1 step loss but suffering 3 themselves, together with the associated retreats, this reduces Union eagerness for attacking. Although things feel quite tightly balanced, the Union still feel that the Confederates are positionally teetering on defeat, they just need to be able to collapse them somewhere that will give them an opening.
McLaws’ enthusiasm to push into the Union line is now causing problems, two of his brigades have become surrounded. This is not going to end well!
|Upper centre - McClaws gets cut off|
At this stage of the game, getting the physical objective victory points are beyond the Confederate grasp. An all out attempt by either side to win by casualties alone is now the clear objective .... defeat of the enemy in the field. A side will get an automatic victory if at the end of any turn they have gained 40 VP’s from inflicting casualties. However, those Delay Points earned earlier for reinforcements arriving late, play into this figure. This benefits the Confederates who got 7 Delay Points, so the Union will need to inflict 47 step losses to claim automatic victory, while the Confederates need just 42.
At the moment, the Confederates have 31 VP’s and the Union 27 and this gives the Union greater cause to want to keep their XI Corps (Strategic Reserve) out of the fray. The VP balance is quite tight and neither side can afford folly.
Both sides continue to fight, ever moving towards exhaustion. The Union are convinced that one more push is all that is needed as the Confederate line thins and many units are at reduced strength. The Confederates are not giving up though, they are close to an Automatic victory, but Anderson breaks his formation during attacks on Cemetery Hill and the Victory Point count moves to Confederate 40 and Union 37. The fight is tough for the Confederates but this battle is slipping away from the Union!
It is late afternoon (the penultimate turn of the game). The Union, nervous as to what order the chits will be drawn in, see their I Corps, followed by XII Corps and V Corps drawn early. This gives some ability to get into better attack positions and to support XI Corps that is significantly threatened by Hood, but not daring to give the Confederates a chance to evade or call their combat first, the Union call their Combat Phase now.
|Hood prepares to assault VI Corps|
VI Corps manages a good spoiling attack against Hood, but II and III Corps take very heavy casualties, giving the Confederates the Victory Points they need to win, while still being too far away from getting an automatic victory themselves this turn. With the VP scores at this stage at Confederate 42 and Union 42, the Confederates know they have broken their enemy and rather than launching more attacks, they use the rest of their activations to pull back and tidy the line.
|End positions - Confederate right flank is|
close to being compromised
This has actually been a very tight ending and in the photograph, you can see that the Union have just started to envelop the Confederate right. The Confederates optimism has never really been high since the first day ended in something of a stalemate, but their generally better TER’s seem to have kept them in the game and their refusal to go over onto the defensive given them the edge here.
Conclusion - This is a relatively small game in terms of map size, counter density and rule depth, but delivers a really thoughtful game experience, in which all decisions seem to matter and both players are involved throughout.
The chaos factor and combat resolution process makes for more interesting commander immersion, though players who like a lot of control over their games may not warm to it as much. There are play notes and design notes, but I think these could be better at getting across exactly what the designer is trying to represent and they avoid what the essential elements of the period are in terms of tactics and capability and the gamer is sometimes left just trusting the design, while guessing why some things have been done in a certain way. This is a thoughtful system and I would have been interested in having more player / design notes, even if that needed a bigger page count.
The three day battle presented here gives a good representation of the conflict in terms of the Confederates having the task of breaking into that feature filled defensive line that is commonly referred to as the fish hook, though the 3 - 6 hour time frame and potential random arrival points means that the game may not unfold as one expects.
In our game, by the end of day 1, the battle was very Gettysburg / Cemetery Ridge centric and the long arm of the ‘fish-hook’ (Down along to Peach Orchard, The Wheat Field and Devils Den) did not develop. I suppose the question for the gamer is whether you want a closer replication of the actual deployment and direction of battle or do you prefer the experience of standing in the shoes of the Army Commanders, facing an unfolding situation with some uncertainty, that is not overly scripted and that still plays along the along the lines of Gettysburg on a Gettysburg battlefield. This design favours the latter and of itself, this answers the age old question of ‘do we need another Gettysburg’ game’ to which the answer is probably yes, as this is delivering something different.
The combat system took longer to explain here than it does to play. Once you get going, it is very slick and easy to apply. It does get bloody results, but again, a brigade in action for a turn is equating to some 3 - 4 hours of fighting is not going to be looking in good shape by the end of that, so the results seem to be about right for the time frame of play.
Having the system under our belts, we are playing the other game in the box (2nd Bull Run) next week.
While playing, I was reading ‘Gettysburg National Military Park’ by Frederick Tilberg from the National Parks Series (book 9). This was a Kindle purchase and gives a useful overview of the three day battle, handy as a reading companion to a Gettysburg game.
Complexity - The box says 4 on a scale of 9 and that feels about right. This is essentially a straight forward system, but it just takes a bit of time to get a handle of what may be new mechanics to the player. I got hung up on exactly when an activation ends and a combat phase can start, which matters because if the activation is still active, that particular formation may not have removed any out of command markers. The rule text wasn’t immediately clear to either of us, then I found the clarity on the back page of the play book (Terms and Abbreviations), so it is all there and perhaps just having a practice game of the first day may offer the fastest way into the game. We found everything else is pretty solid. We doubled our playing speed in the second game, as we got past the learning curve.
Playing time - There is only one scenario for Gettysburg and that is the full three day battle. The box doesn’t give a play estimate, but my full 3 days game took me around 7 hours, though I was writing up the notes for this post as well. The game starts as a meeting engagement, so units are slowly fed in and in reality for such a big battle, counter density never gets particularly high and due to casualties, is thinning out on the last day.
Solitaire - This is a two player game that plays well for the solo player, with the random nature of the chit draw for activation keeping the game dynamic on an activation by activation basis. The uncertainty of the arrival time and place of units also helps solitaire play. The only thing you need to decide for both sides is whether to throw artillery in, so no big deal really, solitaire players often face that aspect of play. I played day 1 face-to-face and days 2 and 3 solitaire in the above AAR.
Size - With a single sized standard map, this is probably about as compact as a Gettysburg game gets. The play aids do not have to go on the table and can be kept to one side, say on a chair, so we can get away with a 3’ x 2’ table space for the map itself, making it 4' to take the play aids. I had the map on a pinboard / poster board.
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