Gettysburg: Badges of Courage is a game that although I like, I’ve developed a few reservations about. On the one hand, it’s an absolutely great system, simple, yet it does a good job of emphasizing command and control, and it produces a lot of excitement. On the other hand, there were always a few details that didn’t seem to work quite right – the way the Confederacy could get hung up in Gettysburg, but once they broke through the Union had a heck of a time setting up a viable defense line on the hills which provided so little cover. Or the unrealistic way artillery was always being brought up to the front lines for point-blank fire.
Fortunately, Columbia has tried to address these issues with a simple set of “experimental” rules, rules that slightly increase the defensive value of hills, make artillery a little more vulnerable at close range, and weaken the defensive value of Gettysburg by weakening the streams. It all works very cleanly and it seems like just the level of change required to bring the game into line.
In our game, I played the Union, Charles the Confederates.
Buford had his usual bad luck defending Seminary Ridge, with lucky shots shattering both cavalry brigades at only a minimal slowdown to the Confederates. The Iron Brigade deployed into Gettysburg, but as expected the terrain was much less favorable and their flank was quickly turned and they were forced to retreat to Cemetery Ridge. A Union counterattack on the Confederate right flank threatened to annihilate a couple isolated brigades and artillery, but was stalled out not so much due to resistance as to sheer incompetence – of the 24 dice thrown over three turns of action needing a 1 or a 2 to hit, only one hit was scored. 6 precious command steps down the drain. One of the big changes in the new rules is that artillery that is too close to enemy infantry can be directly targeted by fire, which is extremely dangerous, but only if you occasionally roll hits.
On balance, the first day progressed much as it always does – the Union getting disorganized and driven back, while Confederate units drive hard and take only incremental casualties – but it did so in a more satisfying manner. The Union is still hard-pressed, but they have a substantially more viable defense line at the ridge. The Confederates can still drive hard, but they can’t wheel their plentiful and powerful artillery up to point-blank range with impunity as they could before. The Union will still be hard-pressed to actually win (as will the Confederates – the game was really designed to be played for two full game-days), but they have an outside shot – I was sitting on 4VPs as late as 7PM.
As I say, I have always liked Gettysburg, even if it couldn’t quite deliver on the outstanding early impression, and it seems like the rules tweaks might really help with a few of the technical issues. Assuming they do, the main remaining obstacle is just how long it takes to play, 6-8 hours probably for the two days to get a really satisfying game, which to me means two sessions. I still wish Columbia could provide some sensible victory conditions for the one-day game so you aren’t more or less forced to continue to the second day. I’d suggest that if you split the difference (7VP is a draw, more or less is a Confederate or Union victory), that feels about right with the new rules. Previously, the Union was desperate just to keep the VP count below 10 on the first day; now it seems like things are a bit more reasonable.