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This is the opening scenario of the recently published A Most Fearful Sacrifice , the latest development in Herman Luttmann's Blind Swor...

AAR THE SLAUGHTER PEN AAR THE SLAUGHTER PEN

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

ACW

This is the opening scenario of the recently published A Most Fearful Sacrifice, the latest development in Herman Luttmann's Blind Sword system for fighting ACW battles.  Though billed as a learning scenario, it gave a dramatic first outing with this superlative game.

 

The Slaughter Pen : Scenario 1

Gettysburg July 2nd late afternoon around 5 p.m.  Confederate forces seem to have made ground in their desperate assault on the Round Tops.  If successful this could unhinge the whole Union defence.


Events were soon to unfold an even more dramatic scene, as both sides witness their strongest units shaken by the loss of a colonel.  The first to recover seem to be the Union troops, as an element of Weed’s brigade suddenly appears on the lower slopes of Little Round Top.  This is rapidly followed by sight of Martin’s small artillery unit struggling to join them, while the strong, but shaken unit of Vincent’s brigade first moves onto the crest of Little Round Top and then recovers good order.  Offsetting this is the failure of Ward’s units to do anything and they’re soon to pay the price for their dilatory lack of action, as one group are fired on and fall back from their position.


A blizzard of bullets looks like a leader must surely fall, but when the smoke clears amazingly no one has been hit!  Hard on the heels of this comes the arrival of a Confederate courier.  Goodness knows what news he has brought, but all of Hood’s valiant troops, as one after the other the men of Law’s brigade surge forward. A new unit attempts the first assault on Little Round Top, but is forced back.  This is followed by a stronger unit crashing into a weaker Union force on the lower slopes and putting it to flight.  Heartened by this success they press on to attack the strongest of the Union units defending one end of Little Round Top.  Surely this is courting disaster!


To all the Union troops’ horror, this powerful unit is shaken and forced to retreat.  With part of the hill taken and Big Round Top already in Confederate hands from the previous hour’s fighting, Union hopes are looking slim.  To add to their woes, Ward’s small detachment of Sharpshooters is roughly handled and sent packing too!


A final renewed Confederate assault adds to the bill of slaughter and leaves the Confederates in what looks like an unassailable position with an hour of battle still left.



Can the Union still  snatch a pyrrhic victory by regaining full control of Little Round Top?  As 6p.m. arrived, Union artillery fire at last came into play and the strongest Confederate unit of Law’s brigade becomes battleworn.  This seems small consolation as in swift succession the remaining Union unit defending the peak of Little Round Top is first depleted and then shaken and forced to retreat.  Little Round Top is totally in Confederate hands.  Meanwhile Law’s battered Confederate force that suffered at the start of the hour sees its colonel hit and down, but against all the odds stands firm. Subjected to more fire it still holds, but a final assault forces it to retreat, but it does so by retreating onto the very peak of Little Round Top adjacent to its fellow unit.


Exhausted men everywhere can do no more and the remaining drama stutters to a close.   The Union force is well nigh destroyed and the Confederates hold the crucial ground.


Apologies for the lack of more pictures, as it was only the enjoyment of the game that led me to write it up as an AAR from the notes that I took during play. In the first photo, the yellow markers peeking out from under two of the counters indicate Shaken status.

 



HOW THE UNION WAS SAVED: the AMERICAN CIVIL WAR  FROM STRATEGEMATA When Stephen Pole followed up Storm In The East with Storm In The West ...

HOW THE UNION WAS SAVED HOW THE UNION WAS SAVED

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

ACW

HOW THE UNION WAS SAVED:

the AMERICAN CIVIL WAR 

FROM

STRATEGEMATA


When Stephen Pole followed up Storm In The East with Storm In The West that seemed a reasonable and logical progression and I thoroughly enjoyed the basic system both games employed.  When he subsequently tweaked that same system for How the West Was Saved, I was a shade concerned that he was trying to shoe-horn the system into a very different period and conflict - that of the Russo/Polish war of 1920.  I wasn't over-thrilled with the title either.  However, if you read my review of that previous game you'll know that I was won over.

So, before Christmas when I received How The Union Was Saved: the American Civil War from Strategemata, my immediate thoughts were that, if nothing else, this title was just too repetitive and unimaginative!  But wait... that box art full of drama and action wasn't bad at all.  Opening the box things got  even better.  


A very nicely designed mounted board presented a simplified, but very playable map. flanked by display charts for each sides forces and two solid and beautifully illustrated screens to hide those units.  I was already beginning to be won over.



The map may have more than a little of the simplicity and austerity of early Avalon Hill years, but it is wholly practical for this strategic level of play.

Then three counter sheets follow - one consists almost entirely of leaders, while the other two contain unit strength counters for all three combat arms and plenty of markers for such things as supply depots, activation markers, garrisons and redoubts.  All these are the very solid, thick, laser-cut counters that are familiar now in several companies' games.  Though rather plain and simple, they are all clear and functional, while the leader counters are graced with black and white, head and shoulder photos.  Another plus.



The rule book is a compact 12 pages dedicated to the rules, but with limited illustration and an additional three pages of excellent design notes - though you may want to copy the latter and expand the font size which is microscopic!  Accompanying the rules booklet is a very good 7 page Example of Play booklet.  This is becoming a more frequent feature in game design and one that I heartily endorse, even for a game such as this.  Physically none of these have the glossy luxury of the larger games producers, but are workman-like and very serviceable.

Nor had I been deterred by the fact that this was another iteration of Stephen Pole's major game system.  When I first encountered it for his series of three WWII games, my first thoughts had been that it might serve even more appropriately for the American Civil War. Now was my chance to find out.

As always the central factor is the use of Resource Points [RPs].  Their fixed allocation helps to establish an appropriately historical pattern to all the games using it, but with a simple positive and negative dice mechanism which adds in just the right amount of potential variation.

These RPs are absolutely essential to virtually every aspect of the game.  First of all they are used to set up and pay for  new supply depots and also pay for the maintenance of existing ones.  Next they pay for the placement of all activation markers that each player will use during the current turn.  For me this is one of the best elements in the system. Each player alternately places an activation marker leading to a subtle tension between executing your intended plans, reacting to your opponent's placements and trying to divine from them what their intentions are. Finally, your RPs are used once again alternately to pay for the movement and combat of activated units.  
So far so familiar and working very nicely.

At this point, Stephen Pole has introduced to the mix the single most effective and important new feature: apart from garrisons, the only "units" to appear on the map are the Field Army stands,  each with its Commanding Leader!  Again, this may not be a new concept.  [I'd refer you to Shako's Napoleon 1806 or Napoleon 1807 for a couple of further excellent games using the same concept, but with more conventional blocks.]  Nevertheless, it is the perfect accompaniment to the cat and mouse manoeuvring - and often blundering - of the historical ACW campaigns.  All that you ever see on the map {apart from a few garrison markers} are a maximum of eight Confederate Armies and ten Union Armies designated by an alphabetically labelled base and the counter of its Commanding Officer.


Here you see the opening set up, with each side's Field Armies deployed and their unit strengths laid out on the corresponding charts hidden by a pair of vividly illustrated screens, such as the Confederate one below.



Considering the few Armies involved, I was also pleased to see that Stephen Pole had avoided the danger of massive over-strength armies.  Instead he has provided a combination of ideas that are another reason for my wholehearted praise and enjoyment of this game.  Crucially, a Field Army can only have a maximum strength of 12  points. While at their heart are the Commanders, who are divided into two levels: Senior [3 stars] and Junior [2 stars].  This is all- important for combat. 

A Junior Commander is marked with a crossed sabre and rifle symbol and a number which indicates how many men they may include in a combat. Whereas, a Senior Commander may command both their own unit strength, again indicated by crossed sabre and rifle, and also a number of Junior Commanders, this time marked by a kepi symbol and number.  Below are two typical Senior Commanders.



Thus, in the photo above, Union Senior Commander Halleck can command 1 strength point himself in combat and two Junior Commanders and their unit strengths.  Confederate Beauregard has an edge as he can command 3 strength points himself, plus 2 Junior Commanders and their strength points. 

All Commanders, with the exception of Robert E. Lee, begin the war at Level 1 and many have the potential to be upgraded to Level 2 as the game progresses.  I like this simple way of factoring in the basic overall inexperience as both sides began the conflict.  On the other hand, I'm not so sure that I wholeheartedly agree with the decision to make available from the start a totally free choice of all Commanders, though this is well explained in the design notes.  After more plays, I will probably work on a more historical chart for their availability.  

As with his previous designs, the historical element is further catered for by a series of Event Card decks, one for each year.  Though I rank very highly some CDGs [Card Driven Games], above all the classic Twilight Struggle , I've always been a greater fan of card assisted games as here.

First of all, the choice of the yearly decks ensures that nothing too anomalous occurs and this is further curtailed by each player drawing a single card per turn.  So that, starting from Turn 2, you play just one of your two Event cards held in hand.  For me, this gives just the right balance of a little historicity per turn and a small element of surprise for your opponent rather than allowing a near re-write of history and too much control of how it unwinds!

I also favour the design that the Decks are shared by each player and so each card has a Confederate and a Union Event, as seen here in these four drawn from the 1861 Deck.

The final design feature that works to create the right historical feel is the division of strength points into full strength and weakened ones.  At the beginning of the war both sides Field Armies contain purely weakened ones.  This is visually well handled on the Field Army Display charts in two ways: firstly, each Army's Display is divided into a Full Strength and a Weakened Strength area and this is reinforced by Full Strength counters being numbered in red and Weakened Strength counters being numbered in black. 
Strength Markers for the three combat arms

As the war progresses, starting from 1862, both sides are allowed a number of upgrades both to units and to Commanders at the end of that year's Spring Turn.  Again, I like the basic concept very much, but would like to have had a little less blanket uniformity.  [A slight variation by die roll, perhaps affected by the previous year's losses might be a possible house rule.]

The last area I want to explore is combat which I would describe as the icing on the cake.  As mentioned earlier, a key factor is the number of strength points that a Field Army can actually bring to bear in combat depends on the Commanders' abilities.  It's next affected by whether those strength points are Full or Weakened troops, as in Combat a Full Strength point counts double.  

All that I've described works to blend familiar aspects with new variations retaining an overall clarity of rules that is strongly supported by the eight page Extended Example of Play. 
A typical page from the excellent Extended Example of Play
Having worked out the number of strength points [SPs] that can be committed to a battle, each player chooses the types of SPs from those available on their Field Army display [e.g. Infantry, Cavalry or Artillery and whether Full Strength or Weakened] and places them secretly on the Hidden Battlefield Display.  Once more a very simple process, easily understood and carried out, but introducing another level of choice seldom seen in most games.

A number of modifiers from typical factors like terrain or adjacent friendly units are applied.  Included in this process is another new idea that I strongly applaud: a simple 2D6 die roll by each player which will result in either being able to add 1 strength of any available type to your combat strength or deduct 1 strength of any available type from your opponent's battle strength.

I greatly enjoy the many uncertainties that derive from hidden displays, the alternating activation of individual Armies and the uncertainty of just what composition of units you're going to meet in battle.  This is all achieved through  a very accessible and well exemplified set of rules.  Once again Stephen Pole has given us a design for a highly playable, fast-paced game that deserves to be in your collection. 

Many thanks as always to Strategemata for providing this review copy.


 

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