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 FOURTEEN DAYS IN JUNE FROM STRATEGEMATA It may sound like the title of a spy novel, but as you can see we're back in familiar war gamin...


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

Hidden unit strength




It may sound like the title of a spy novel, but as you can see we're back in familiar war gaming territory... or, perhaps, not so familiar.  Especially, there's no need for the immediate exclamation - not another Waterloo game.  Why? Well, because this isn't the typical focus of the three days, but as the title and subscript spells out, it's a treatment of the whole two weeks leading up to and culminating in the battle of Waterloo.  This is a very refreshing change, especially as it's a game coming from a designer that I already rate highly.  Several of his games I've already reviewed for A Wargamers Needful Things and nearly all his other games are in my collection.  So, it was no surprise to see "A game by Stephen Pole" featured on the front of the game box.  It's a detail that would immediately make me pick up a game and have me well on the way to buying it.
However, once again I've got Strategemata to thank for their kindness in sending me Fourteen Days In June to review.  Opening up the box revealed typical features of both a Stephen Pole design and Strategemata production.  Much as I've liked the sequence of their smaller mounted maps in recent games, I was more than happy to see a full sized paper map for this game which gives justice to the necessary scale for this campaign.

The counters remain of very average quality by current standards and remind me very much of the simplicity of when I first encountered board games through SPI magazine games back in the 1970s!  Everything is functional and serviceable and so is the rule book, which remains a simple twelve page, stapled, black and white production.  
Front page of Rules Booklet

As has become almost standard, it is supported by a similar eight page booklet of rules examples, with plenty of helpful coloured illustrations, but with text in even smaller print than the rules themselves.  
Eight page Examples Booklet

Though these production qualities are a far cry from the gloss of many nascent games companies, the design itself is very much a quality one, blending as it does elements familiar from a number of Stephen Pole's previous games with some very interesting developments.
To start with, what is familiar from 2021's How The Union Was Saved are the wooden stands and oblong leader counters that are all that appear on the map itself.  Each stand and Leader represents a Formation.  They are very few in number, with only eight in total for the joint Allied British and Prussian forces and seven for the French when set up at the start,  growing to a maximum of fourteen for the Allied and twelve for the French.  This is followed by the identical layout down one side of the map for the units that make up each leader's command.  

On the display, you place unit markers, one for each of the three combat arms: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  These markers are numbered so that you can register the current number of divisions of each type that the force contains.  Those placed on each top row will be numbered in black to show full strength and those on each bottom row will be numbered in white to show half strength.
Just as your display was hidden from your opponent's by screens in How the Union Was Saved, so too here.

Each player gets to see a suitably dramatic scene of their enemy in firing line, while on the reverse they face a helpful set of informative tables.  All these elements are identical to those in the previous game, along with the combat system that I'll discuss later.  Virtually everything else is different.
The initial and very obvious difference is the larger size of map which promises that manoeuvre will be even more important than it was for the ACW game.  However, it is within the system itself that the major changes and developments appear and all of them I've found highly rewarding.  
The major one in this game is the issuing of orders.   What is rather strange is that in the Sequence of Play, it doesn't even get named!  There are, in fact, only three Phases listed:
[1] Attrition and Supply
[2] Movement and Combat
[3] Commander Movement
The first, Attrition and Supply, is fairly conventional.  Attrition is affected by two factors - the size of the Force and whether it is in supply or not.  Supply is handled by the tried and trusted method of  tracing to a supply source along a road, but thankfully doesn't allow the often ridiculous ability to allow your road to wander all over the map back to a supply source!  Instead the road you are using to trace supply may only progress three hexes ahead of the compass direction fixed for your nationality - south for the British, north for the French and west for the Prussians.  An extra restriction is that you must be on or adjacent to the road or be separated by a single clear hex.  It may seem a small point, but having despaired of many games with easy, but ridiculously liberal supply rules or some games with immensely complex ones!  Here, it is simple, but realistic.
Virtually all the rest of the game's rules are contained in Phase 2 Movement and Combat.  Personally, I would have labelled this Phase Orders and Movement, as it has five sections. Parts I to IV deal with Orders, while Part V deals specifically with the details of Movement.  However, the type of Order will affect movement and whether you can engage in combat too.  All these combinations depart significantly from the simplicity and ease of understanding that I associate with Steve Pole's designs.  Don't be deterred.  It is well worth getting to grips with and I would strongly recommend following through each part of the rules, using both the examples in the supporting booklet along with physical counters on the map too.  A single play of the game was then sufficient for me to play subsequent games with barely a reference to the rule book about orders.  I'd also suggest that, when first learning and playing the game, you stick to the Historical Set-Up rules and only move on to the Quasi-Historical Set-Up or Free Set-Up when you've bedded in the rules!

Historical Set-Up
So, at the start only the French issue Initial Orders, one for each Force on the map and this involves writing a destination village, town or city on a record sheet.   This is a very similar method to Hexasim's Rising/Falling Eagles games that also cover Napoleonic battles.  While under Initial Orders, formations can only move on the road network.  For the first three turns, only the French can move using these Initial Orders, though on turn 2 the Allied forces do write down their Initial Orders and on turn 3 place the Order markers on the map.
Without going into too much detail, what follows on from Turn 4 is the issuing of Further Orders.    This is done one force at a time alternately from one side to the other.  Each time you attempt to issue an order, you test by rolling two dice with a decreasing bonus system to see if you are successful.  Fail and you cannot issue any more orders; also if you decide not to issue an order, you can't issue any more that turn.  There is quite a deal of subtlety here (especially as you can place +1 or +2 markers which act as a sort of delayed order process).  Once comfortable with applying them, it's a system I thoroughly enjoy and would single out as being a major factor.
Once all Order markers have been placed on the map, they are carried out,  again alternately.  One side chooses a Force with an Order marker, removes the Order marker and moves and conducts combat, if desired and possible, and then the other side activates a  Force and does the same.  Like the issuing of orders, if you decide not to activate a Force, then you won't be able to activate any more that turn and any Forces that still have orders on them have them removed!
Part IV (of the Movement and Combat Phase) is named Updating Orders and is the process by which a Force with a +1 marker is given an Order marker and a Force with a +2 marker has it substituted by a +1 marker.  
Included among these central processes of the game are a number of small details that contribute to the flavour and feel of this game.  Route blocked markers that hinder the progress of your own units; the ability to Force March resulting in placing a fatigue marker that affects combat; the use of markers to show that your Force has already been in combat and adds a negative affect to further combat; the role of Commanders for whom only the single highest ranking Commander's standee is ever located on the map and as Forces merge or split new Commanders come into play or are placed on the hidden displays where the unit strength markers are located; and one of my favourites, Inadvertent Moves  whereby every hex moved off-road has to be diced for and a failed roll ends the Force's movement in a randomly generated hex adjacent to the one you've just entered.  The latter is an excellent reminder of the difficulties of off-road movement along with the added difficulties brought on by bad weather. 

En Avant. Mes Amis
The blue markers indicate Route Blocked

Moving on to the Combat rules, they are the identical ones used in Stephen Pole's previous ACW game and they are highly effective and easy to implement.  Commanders once more play an important role, as the number of stars of rank a leader possesses determines the maximum number of dice you may choose to roll and the total rolled is the number of divisions you must commit to a battle.  So, a leader like Napoleon can roll up to five dice which, of course, means, depending on what he rolls, he may be able to commit anywhere between 5 to 30 divisions.  Obviously, if you don't have as many as the number rolled, you simply commit all that you have!  Factors like the quality of your Army Commander if leading the Force, combined arms and terrain add to your total with the final addition of a D6 roll for each player.
Whoever achieves the higher number wins the battle.  Then the difference between the scores is the maximum number of hits that the winner inflicts on the loser and the loser scores half that number of hits on the winner.  Each hit eliminates half a division point. The scale of a victory also involves who retreats and who controls that retreat. This is an excellent and very easy method which does away with unrealistic combat factor counting just to get that perfect combat odds and also does away with computing column shifts and die roll modifiers.  Moreover, losses from combat and attrition are crucial to winning the game.
Unless the French gain an automatic victory by capturing one of the two hexes of Brussels, victory is determined at the end of the fourteen turn game by the number of divisions lost by each side.  
The French win if either the British or the Prussians have lost at lest 10 divisions and the French have lost fewer than half the total number of divisions lost by the the British and Prussians combined.  Any other result is a win for the Allied side.  These conditions influence game play and player decisions from the very start - another excellent factor in the game.
This is a hugely enjoyable two-player game.  It is easy to play and one that will not have your head buried in the rule book, but concentrating on what's happening on the map.  Hidden strengths, the order system and combined movement & combat rules all lead to a fast moving, tension filled contest of cat and mouse game that can be played out in a single sitting.  It’s also the type of game where you will certainly make blunders, as you learn the potential for each side to deceive and pursue unexpected lines.  Learning how to counter these and devise and exploit twists of your own is part of the pleasure.  Even using the historical setup,  the course of the campaign may well not follow history, unless both players pursue identical decisions to their historical counterparts.  But if you want to put yourself in the place of those commanders with all the uncertainty that they faced and execute your plan to achieve victory, this game should just serve your needs.  Personally, I intend to try it out in the future with the added uncertainty of using my sleds so that I cannot initially see who is leading each Force. nor who may be in command when forces split up.

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 ...


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

Hidden unit strength





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.