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Subject: Can you Surpass Lee? Can You Do Better than Hooker? rss

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Stonewall's Last Battle » Forums » Reviews
Can you Surpass Lee? Can You Do Better than Hooker?
Stonewall's Last Battle is the fifth volume of Avalon Hill/MMP's popular Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) and the first to be done by Ed Beach of Here I Stand fame. It is an operational treatment of the 1863 Chancellorsville Campaign that saw the death of Stonewall Jackson, the humiliation of Joseph Hooker, and what was arguably the high watermark of the Confederacy and the Army of Northern Virginia.

Gameplay (23 out of 28): Stonewall's Last Battle plays as a series of impulses spread out over a set number of days. Scenarios go from short to grand affairs although given the small map and shorter number of turns Stonewall's Last Battle plays faster than other entries. Each turn random events are rolled for and then dice are used to decide who has the initiative, with Rebels winning ties. Whoever wins the initiative can activate a unit (typically a general) then roll a die and move the strength points attached to that unit. There are bonuses for moving with corps commanders as opposed to division, brigade, and even regimental commanders, and of course the Confederates move a little faster when activated. All of these actions lead to units gathering fatigue, which is measured from 1-4 depending on how many times the unit has been activated or the results of combat.

The trouble some fans of GCACW have with Stonewall's Last Battle is that much of the map isn't used and the maneuvers are less grand and complex but importantly the Union will generally have the same battle plan each time they play the grand scenario because of the victory objectives. Also to simulate Hooker's campaign plan there are restrictions on Union movement in the main scenario. I like these supposed deficiencies because it models the campaign and the small area of action and limited number of turns makes each decision tense. The small size makes the game one of the faster ones to both set up and play to completion. But I must admit I'm biased because the campaign fascinates me and the system allows for interesting situations to pop up while staying true to what could have realistically happened. I do wish the map was a bit bigger in order to explore the possibility of Lee retreating rather than fighting Hooker at Chancellorsville, but you could use the maps from Grant Takes Command and make the secenario length longer to play around with these possibilities.

VASSAL Session in Progress:


So far I have nothing but praise but I must point out two problems I have with the system. Supplies are a little abstracted and there are no penalties for being out of supply unless you use the cumbersome ammunition rules. My problem is that once a battle begins it won't look like the short but horrific engagements that became famous in the War Between the States. This is due to two factors: One the units acquire fatigue very quickly and if fatigued they can easily remain disorganized for long periods of time. This means that one bad combat can easily put a unit out of action for two days, not including the day they saw combat. This on its own isn't too bad, and certainly makes sense. However, the combat chart is shockingly tame for a war that often saw generals sacrificing 1/4 of their army in a few days. To put it bluntly when units clash the losses are very light, and thus a defender will have few reasons to retreat unless he is outmaneuvered and/or outnumbered. My guess is this system works well when we consider light engagements like those fought in the Valley or west of the Mississippi, but the game lacks a battlefield intensity chart, which I've encountered in the underrated Autumn of Glory. This chart makes some battles light and others gargantuan. In GCACW losses will pile up if you have two stubborn opponents, but the battle will usually look more like Spotsylvania than Antietam. I think the other strengths of the game outweigh the tactical deficiencies, but they prevent me from considering GCACW to be a classic series.

Operational (4 out of 5): I like the operational maneuvering that the system allows. It does looks funny to see Jackson moving slower than Slocum because of dice, but the system creates a lot of tension and models just how messy Civil War maneuvers really were along with the age old question in musket combat: how hard do I press my men?. Also while Slocum or Howard can out-maneuver Jackson, it is not a common occurrence. I'd like some individual leader stats that would effect movement, but all around this part of the game works very well and is rightfully seen as the heart and soul of the series.

Accessibility (3 out of 5): The rulebook is pretty accessible in this title although vagueness does abound in understanding the combine flanks special rule and the nuances of the game can be hard to grasp at first. The charts included are a big help and I found the game was a good way to learn the system. However, this is by no means an introductory level wargame.

Components (4 out of 5): The map is very detailed and evokes the period. Pieces are functional but have nice touches like leader portraits.

Sample of the Map:


Originality (2 out of 2): The system is well applied here with some much needed special rules. In many ways it appears that Stonewall's Last Battle represented a turn for the more complex in GCACW, but I might be wrong in this feeling.

Historical Quality (3 out of 5): The realities of the campaign are presented with little fuss, which is always a good sign. Hooker's loss of confidence is in relation to both a random die result and causalities taken in battle. Also the rules restrict Hooker's movement but also force the Union to make some interesting tactical choices about how many men to leave near Fredericksburg and whether to press the attack or draw the Rebels into an an attack on strongly positioned forces. This mirrors the dilemma faced by Hooker, while as Lee you must stop a two pronged attack and decide when to risk a major assault. Another dilemma for Johnny Reb is whether to stop Hooker's cavalry or bring your horsemen east to aid in the main fight. While some have trouble with Jackson's high stat line I think it makes perfect sense in this battle. I shaved off two points for the tactical system, which doesn't take into consideration combat intensity.

Overall (40 out of 50): Stonewall's Last Battle lacks some of the dynamic maneuvering of other titles and for this reason it is often considered the runt of the litter, although still popular with many gamers. I for one like it. So far I've played six games in the series and I think Burnside Takes Command and Stonewall Jackson's Way are better then Stonewall's Last Battle, but I prefer Stonewall's Last Battle to Here Come the Rebels, Grant Takes Command, and Rebels in the White House. In reviewing Bobby Lee I took strong exception with the tactical system, and it may appear that I am not entirely doing the same here, but I feel GCACW does a great job of modeling small engagements but not big ones. I felt Bobby Lee failed on all tactical points.

I find when gaming we play more advanced wargames it is to either explore a situation that fascinates us or to play with possibilities or both. Stonewall's Last Battle fulfills both desires, but it presents another concept. Ernest B. Furgurson in his book on Chancellorsville said never in any Civil War battle did one general dominate another the way Lee dominated Hooker. Stonewall's Last Battle presents the question that fascinates many gamers: can you do better than Hooker or as good as Lee?
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Iain K
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Re: Can You Do Better Than Hooker or as Good as Lee?
Nice review gittes.

One correction:

Quote:
This is a big step forward, as the previous titles did not include rules for leader causalities which I see as a major mistake.


Untrue, rule 17.0 has always dealt with Confederate leader death. As I recall, a later game adds union leader death as well.

I agree that the ruleset began to grow a bit "big for its britches" with this title.

That having been said, I use the summary cards for this title when I play any of the games. They're very well done, and authored by the designer of Hannibal Rome vs Carthage, Mark Simonitch.

Brandy station is also an excellent scenario, one of the top ten in the entire GCACW series of games - in the top 5 in my book. Very fluid, quick playing and replayable. I find it a good teaching scenario.

This title also has several short scenarios, suitable for an evening's play or conventions.

As for Slocum outmaneuvering Jackson, don't forget that the confederates win all ties in initiative die rolls which means Jackson usually gets to move first as well as more often ... and it's often about get there first in this series.

Game on!

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Re: Can You Do Better Than Hooker or as Good as Lee?
Quote:
Untrue, rule 17.0 has always dealt with Confederate leader death. As I recall, a later game adds union leader death as well.


I'm actually going by what Ed Beach told me here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/344397

Grant Takes Command has rules for Union corps commander causalities.
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Iain K
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Re: Can You Do Better Than Hooker or as Good as Lee?
And I'm going from my rulebook for "Stonewall Jackson's Way".



Seriously, Ed's point was the "standard series rules" don't have a "Standard" rule for leader death. Fair enough, but there were six titles in the series before the Standard rules, and most if not all have some rule, usually 17.0 for the death of leaders.

Personally, I never play using the "standard rules", the original six titles play better with their original rules, and the "standard' rules introduced for the seventh title "Grant Takes Command" are overwrought particularly when compared with the rules in the first few games (SJW, HTR and RTG).

Anyway to each their own.

But leaders can die in any of the games in the series - per those games' rules.
 
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Can You Do Better Than Hooker or as Good as Lee?
Quote:
Personally, I never play using the "standard rules", the original six titles play better with their original rules, and the "standard' rules introduced for the seventh title "Grant Takes Command" are overwrought particularly when compared with the rules in the first few games (SJW, HTR and RTG).


Gotcha ya, I'm going to fix the entry. What specifically is different between the standard rules and the old rules?
 
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Mike Smith
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Not played this yet, but gearing up to do so. Doesn't the disorganisation also represent losses?
 
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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It does to a degree I presume, but that still does not fit Civil War losses (being wounded meant you were out for sometime). Furthermore, battles happen again and again and over long periods of time. So your average GCACW battle is rarely like Antietam or Shiloh. It is more like Petersburg and Spotsylvania.
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Mike Smith
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Not really in a position to defend a system that I have not yet played, but would it not be true to say that numerical depletion of a regiment in the Civil War did not always cause a directly proportional loss of combat effectiveness? Indeed some authors suggest that a shrinkage in numbers due to battle actually led to a hardening of the effectiveness of some units, once the immediate trauma of battle fatigue was recovered from.

Could the combat system be trying to model this? Lots of disorganisation representing the immediate effects of battle in terms of command breakdown, casualties and the trauma of witnessing casualties. However, the long-term weakening represented by step losses slighter than might be expected purely in numerical casualty terms to account for the concomitant battle hardening of a unit.

Maybe I am just trying too hard to rationalise this...
Anyway, great review as always.
 
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
badge
Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
mbmbmbmbmb
I just don't see it. Then again I think the great error in this system is that Civil War generals were always thinking of the next battle and most of the political repercussions of defeat. Add to that the fact that these were volunteer armies led by men who were doing a lot of on the job training. So it would be rare for any army to fight a continuous battle before 1864.

That being said, I must say the inherent weakness in all tactical and operational games is the tendency to go "all out" for victory in a way many commanders would not have. This is most pronounced in naval games. Real admirals would not be as bold as those of us who push cardboard. I like a game that rewards you for keeping your forces intact. I will think on all of this more as time goes on and I design more games.
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