Most wargamers of my generation "do" the American Civil War. The reason is simple, - those four packets* of Airfix figures that made it possible. If they'd made musketeers and pikemen we'd all have been doing the English Civil War instead.
I've had several goes at the ACW, - I have Terry Wise's Airfix guide, I bought Heroics & Ros 6mm (or was it 2mm?) blocks, but frankly I never really did get it. After reading Paddy Griffith's excellent monograph "Rally Once Again" (aka "Battle Tactics of the Civil War") I finally understood why I wasn't keen, - it was just plain dull tactically. Not really any nice uniforms either.
I'm afraid to say it sat on the shelf ever since I was given it, still in its shrink wrap. Two reasons for this: firstly, as mentioned above, the ACW bores me rigid, secondly, I had no opponent who would want to play a three hour long, two player, board wargame. (Mrs T plays board games, but she doesn't do wargames particularly and also nothing over 90 minutes mostly).
Anyhow, as those of you who follow this blog will know my brother was recently in a car accident and is convalescing at home. And I'm currently between employments. So, it only seemed fair to boost my sibling's morale by going up and playing a game or two with him. We considered playing a proper table top wargame, but he doesn't have the space and also in his condition he needs to be sitting down, not reaching across a table. So we decided on "Gettysburg."
For those of you brought up on SPI and Ava;on Hill the rule book is small for a board wargame, but there are a number of intricacies in it that need careful reading and re-reading and in places it isn't as well laid out as it could be. However we played through with only minimal reference to it. If we'd thought beforehand RJ could have downloaded the pdf and swotted up as well.
This isn't a battle report. I'm not a fan of some figure battle rpeorts, so a descrition of a board game really doesn't do it for me. However, for those of you interested in summary I finally gave up the assault after 3+ hours of fairly gripping and intense play part way through the final day. It had become clear I had little chance of achieving the last stage of the victory conditions and in addition it was time to go home.
So, what did we think about the game? Well, taking into account neither of us has any real interest in the ACW and both of us would prefer to play a table top game than a board game if we're wargaming, we both really enjoyed it.
The key part of the game is the command mechanism. This requires you to decide in advance where you want to potentially give orders from a finite, but recycled, pool of command blocks with varying levels of potential commands. You then allocate command tokens to these blocks that enables you to gove orders to units around the block. These orders include Move/Assault, Fire Guns, Entrench, Reorganise etc. The number of orders you give in each of the phases is likewise restricted and you can only place orders if you have command blocks on the table. The order tokens are also recycled from game period to period and if you're not careful these get trapped on the board and you can't reuse them, so your army grinds to a halt. It's simple but also intricate and very thought provoking. Furthermore the way the actual spaces on the board are laid out also provide some real challenges and require you to think several turns ahead.
So we were only into the first move or two and we're already thinking really hard and saying things like "This is really clever" and "What a super piece of design". Whether this is a good recreation of Gettysburg I can't say for sure as it's not a battle I've ever studied a lot but it has the flavour you'd expect. The armies flounder around as inadequate staff work means units arrive too late for where they're needed. Co-ordinating actions across the battlefield is possible but really hard. Full frontal assaults uphill against Yankees supported by their artillery become the only option at some points. These can succeed but are also very bloody and are usually desperately futile.
For two players who know one another and are evenly matched in terms of knowledge of the period and the rule system this proved to be a well balanced, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable game, which is more than I can say for some of the SPI ACW monstrosities I tried to play in my youth.
So, a game I wouldn't have bought myself, but one I really enjoyed. I think we will play it again when I go up for another recuperatory visit. If you enjoy two player games and aren't too bothered about subject matter then this is a winner. I can't say what ACW buffs will think of it. I hope they'd be open minded enough to see it as a really good attempt at capturing the flavour and problems of the period.
So, another but recommendation for a Martin Wallace game.
* Or five if you used Foreign Legion to make Zouaves. Or eight if you include the Wagon Train, Cowboys and Indians. My, those Airfix lads loved the Old West, didn't they?