After our last game, one thing I was slightly uneasy about was the relative mobility of artillery units. It seemed like artillery was too easy to use as short-range infantry gun type weapons, wheeling them right up to the front line to blast enemy positions, with no reason to use them as the long-range support that was their historical role. Fortunately, there is an optional rule for “column movement” that sounded like it should correct this minor issue, so Carl & I decided to use it this time. Since I had the Union last time, I got the Confederates this time.
As a word of advice to players playing this game for the first time, you really should play the game without this rule. I think it does help give the game a more historical feel, but it also changes the game dramatically and does make movement decisions a lot more complicated. Generally, it now is a lot harder to reposition troops. While in our first game the attacking Confederates could comparatively easily turn flanks and redeploy across the battlefield, it’s a much more painstaking and time-consuming process when they have to switch between line and column formations and can’t stack in column. Another big difference is that Buford’s cavalry has a much more meaningful chance to delay the Confederate onslaught long enough for the Union to set up strong defensive positions in Gettysburg itself.
Which is what happened in our game. The off-road terrain in the north-west corner of the battlefield is tough going, so Hill’s advance on Gettysburg can be rather slow if Buford opts to delay. Meanwhile, the Iron Brigade and others from the first batch of reinforcements were piling into Gettysburg, which is a strong position (due more to the streams & woods than to the city itself). Faced with the unappealing prospect of blasting through the city itself, and with reinforcements arriving later along the north board edge, I extended the flank to the east towards Benner Hill. This worked reasonably well in terms of extending the Union line, but in terms of winning the game, this is not the way to go. There is only one VP that can reasonably be taken to the East – Benner Hill – while in the South you’ve got the gimme at the Peach Orchard which I never took, plus then 3 more that you can threaten.
You need 5 VP to not lose the first day as the Confederates. This means you realistically need the Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg itself, plus either the Peach Orchard or Benner Hill and to inflict one more shattered unit than you lose. While Benner Hill is attractive, in the end I think the Peach Orchard is the better extra VP to go for since it has easy access to more VPs than Benner Hill. The column rules make it very tough, though. It’s a long march to the Peach Orchard, and the Union is much more likely to beat you to Gettysburg in force, requiring a massive assault to evict him.
The real strength of the Confederates, though, is their ability to do those massive assaults. Because of their monolithic command structure, they are more or less incapable of doing smaller, more scattered division-level offensives. I found this out when I detached a single division to move south; it’s attack stalled out almost immediately and the Corps commander (Hill) was too preoccupied with the situation at Gettysburg to get the attack restarted. The Union, with their much smaller Corps, are much better at these small actions. So if you’re going to attack as the Confederates, make it a big one.
The bottom line on why my Confederates came up short, though, was that I didn’t pay enough attention to keeping low-strength units out of the firing line and rebuilding them. As a result, I lost at least one extra shattered unit which was the difference. The 1VP for losing a unit is very, very big, as I said last time, and you have to be careful because these lost VPs realistically cannot be made up by taking more terrain. I might also complain about my final assault on Benner Hill which by rights really should have shattered at least two Union units, but came up appallingly short on the dice – but like most of these games, there are a lot of dice, and you win some and you lose some in that respect. Nothing I could have done about that, but I definitely lost at least one unit I shouldn’t have, and that was the margin. As the Confederates it seems you need to have that elusive, Montgomery-esque combination of aggressiveness and risk-aversion. The dice are going to go south occasionally, and you have to be careful not to put yourself in a position where that’s going to cost you a unit or two.
OK, last thing, and having played twice now my only gripe about the game is the graphics on the mapboard. We had a heck of a time figuring out when the woods are or are not supposed to be hexside terrain. When it goes right up to the hexside? When it’s clearly on both sides? The rules are mum on this point and there is significant ambiguity at times. I had originally gone with the “clearly on both sides” interpretation, but I think it retrospect that the “goes right up to the edge” is correct. Nothing players can’t work out, and it’s going to crop up at worst only occasionally – but this is a significant oversight in the rules and the board should be better.
So anyway, I quite enjoyed the game again, and still like it. Despite not being complicated, it’s still a big, substantial game and is going to take a while to play. Nice for a change from the the more modest-length stuff Columbia has been doing of late, but if you’re a Hammer fan bear in mind that this will take twice as long to play just the first day. It’s worth it though. I’ll be curious to see what the playing time settles down to on this one. We’ve been doing about 6 hours for one day, which is a bit on the high side I think, it would be nice to do one day in 2-3 hours. I’m not sure how practical that target is, though.