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Subject: Tell me about Gettyburg 77 rss

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alex w
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Introduction

I have this game for probably more than 20 years now. After my first introductory game and follow on intermediate game when I was in my teens, I have packed it and kept it ever since. A recent house keeping session brought this game back out into the light.

When I re-opened the box, memories flooded back to me when I had my wargaming sessions with my best friend. The markings on the rules, the copies of the charts, the markings of the artillery boxes and the pencil cancellation of unit combat strength...... It seem that we did try the advanced game...... But I
can't remember anything about it. How can that be...... It's my hand writing......

Two possible answers come to mind..... (1) I'm getting forgetful along with age. (2) This game could be so bad, that I rather forget I ever played it. zombie

With curiosity building up, I ask another friend to join me in this venture into the advanced game of Gettysburg. After countless sessions lasting between 2 to 6 hours each, restarting the game twice during those initial sessions, I would like to share some experience of the advance game with you all.

I have quite a few Gettysburg wargame, from Gettysburg 88 to Columbia Games version to Wheat Field of Victory Point Games. Each of these played very differently and Gettysburg 77 ‘Advance-game’ gave an experience that is unique, all on its own as well.


The rules in brief

Firstly, Download the FAQ if you want to have a clearer idea of what the rules are getting at. Even with this errata and FAQ, it’s not total. There are still some questions that seem unanswered. Secondly, don't read the rules without the charts beside you. I must say, it's pretty hard for some to see a logical step by step of events that need to be followed (mainly from the charts) in order for the game to be playable.

The rules are convoluted even though you could feel they are trying very hard to write them in logical steps/order. Some are quickly realised from the FAQ, but some significant errors (un-described rules) took time to figure out. (They either use the wrong wordings, like command or control limits OR charts like Artillery Strength Point Charts are not well described.)

In the most simplest sense, the sequence of play are as follows :

(1) I believe Command Selection Phase comes first. (the rule book treats this as part of movement) This is where you choose Primary Commander to act without (much) restrictions. Followed by Independents and than other commanders. Reinforcements come in too.

(2) You move your units. Declare attacking formations. Disorganization occurs.

(3) Your Cannons fire. (Casualties and disorganizations are calculated)

(4) Adjacent units fire at each other. (Casualties and disorganizations are added on.) Retreats are decided.

(5) If still adjacent, the assault begins. One hex is selected and results are calculated. (This adds more to Casualties and Disorganization.) Retreats are forced if the assault is successful.

(6) The other player does the same.

(7) 20 minutes have passed!


The counters and all

Are both beautiful and downright ugly. The brigade HQ counters are pretty presentable, even if it's by today's standard. The Confederates have colour coded state pictograms. The Union brigades have their corps icon, in first/second/third division colours.

The rest goes downhill from here. The leaders all looked the same, except the numbers that signify command and control. On the board, I sometimes have to go 'leader hunting', to find where my leaders have gone to. This gets a bit tedious when in day 3; most of the units/leaders are already committed. (Not to mention the shades of blue and grey are quite close to each other).

The 'boys' are nothing more than a half inch counter, in two different shares of their respective colour, with Ant-like-plan-view-black-shaded specks. Slightly more squared ones are infantry and longish ones are for cavalry. Nothing wrong here, truly functional ...... Really.............. (Sigh....) It would be good if they have given us some more line counters. I have to use some homemade counters to supplement the lacking especially on the third day. (Made about 120 more ‘straight’ battleline makers.)

The rest are a large pool of numbers in 2 different type fonts. One I use for unit strength and the other I use for disorganization level indicator (in numerals of every 10th).


The game play

To write up on every aspect of such a large game may be possible, but I'm not that capable of doing so. What I would like to share, are some thoughts that I've experienced in this game.

The boys

Let's face it, they are going to die like flies. When two brigades clashes, the casualties will mount. Once the artillery fires have done their damage, the boys would be advancing in. Once they are adjacent, the carnage begins. The trade off in fire combat hinges very much on the unit experience level and the number of boys you can bring to bear at a certain hex. (Fire exchange)

If an assault is successful (mostly will, as you would have calculated your estimated fire combat casualties and the chances of success from the assault chart even before you commit the brigade forward), a smaller percentage of casualties would have been added to the target brigade before they retreat. Worst, to add salt to wound, disorganization points would have cause just as much 'casualty' to the target brigade as it will cause the unit to become weaker by reducing 'experience level' and directly account for it’s future activities.

This however, does not mean that every assault/advance will see you through the field. A bad die roll between equal forces can swing both ways. But most advancing battles would have expected results if numbers could be brought to bear.

Experience level of a unit, do still play a vital role in exemplifying quality over quantity aspects of the game. A weaken cavalry brigade fully rested could still stop an enemy brigade nearly twice it's size ( lower quality), amid some luck on the die rolls too. This is part of the 'high', on this game. The ‘Veteran’ units are always ‘treasured’ (Doles/Rodes held in reserve) and the weaker ‘Experienced’ units (Like Daniels and Iverson of Rodes) are used to form the initial battleline, to take the first hit. Then the Veterans will have a go at each other and whoever can bring in some reinforcements will have the advantage around that particular area.

The guns

The effects of artillery is not at first prominent till most of the batteries are in play. The individual firepower of each battery is actually rather small. Players tend to use them to 'supplement' the damage results from combat between brigades. However, once the complete artillery unit are concentrated at a particular enemy brigade (which may be quite difficult to achieve, due to positioning warfare). The effects of all these shots are devastating to units and exhilarating to behold if you can execute it in proper.

There is however a rather strange feel to this system. There are no die rolls and the 'measurement' to the target unit confirms a casualty number. The rules of firing to a forest, the difference in 'lower levels' and non-adjacent hexes did took some time to 'remember'.

There were interesting moments where enemy units advanced and ended up being flank fired upon by enemy artillery. The fire damage is not high (usually 2 to 3 casualty points) but the disorganization points earned is significant to reduce the advancing enemy units the much needed staying power. There came a time where I commented, ‘..another 6 casualty points this turn....’ and then the following turn...’OK, another 6 more’.... and the next turn after that... ‘another 6.’ Even the stronger infantry units under such fire consistently will have difficulties recovering from disorganization. By running away, the unit usually incur more disorganization points that could (on average) put them out of action for the next 2 to 3 hours. (about 6 to 10 turns)

One interesting feeling I get, is the need to ‘fire everything’ and ‘get the hell out of there!’ attitude towards artillery units. Firstly, if the associated infantry brigades are ‘almost destroyed’, their artillery would not be staying around much either. Those un-checked boxes would be a waste. Secondly, they are being refilled quite easily, ready for use the next day.


The terrain and the map

One of the most confusing map I have ever play games upon!

The road network starts and ends abruptly sometimes. There would be a main road and some shorter 3-4hexes worth of road in the middle of nowhere. I could only assume that those are 'short roads' between farms or certain fields that were historically there.

The levels of each hex are not clear and constant reference to the rule book's mini-map for clarification was a drag. Further problems arises, when you place artillery units in line and some are of different height levels, the constant checking of casualty values at differing hexes did slow our game down.

Ironically, the lack of a terrain effect chart (like most Wargames) was a relieve. In a very general sense, there seem to be only a few forest hexes, the town and a (hell) lot of up and down levels. Mind you, it's not that the colors are not being clear on the map, but when units are on the hexes that blocks much of it out. Worst are those brigades that straddle between the hill and the valley.

On the bright side, the map is also one of the most beautiful when there are no units on it. A topographic beauty in a certain sense. I'm not sure of its historical accuracy but just the functionality of it in game play gives me something to desire.


The victory points

The victory points at first seem to be all around the map similar to any wargame setup. But the actual victory points are from 'killing units' or capturing guns.

In our first game, capturing guns seem rather simple as we used our cannons to fire at enemy units at every opportunity. This opportunity sometimes ended up with the cannons wide open for enemy advancing units. Problem arises when we had difficulties in identifying which is the captured unit, especially so when the combat actions are so close to one another.

A question came up during our game

How do we ‘bend’ units near the edge of the board? At one point I have Anderson’s brigade Wright pass Hagerstown road to ‘meetup’ with Birney’s break away brigade (Think it was Grahams’). From column deploying to line near EE, we did wonder how we are going to deploy the 3rd ‘8’ strength maker? Kind of strange that the ‘world’ ends quite abruptly.

The game (Sharing some thoughts)

We often placed the artillery at an angle to our brigades, especially so in defensive posture. Once your brigades take casualties and retreat, the enemy units would be exposed (to a certain level) to these shots, when they try to close in with your retreating brigades. Heavy fire would usually stop the advancing enemy unit.

The union did try to put most of his available artillery around Cemetery Hill and blasted the weaken Heth boys and some from Pender. (Think Thomas took the worst of it.) When my Brigades started to close, he pulled back all the Artillery and pushed his infantry up the slope. Had I not pre-counted the number of hexes to the top of the hill, I would have been ‘counter-charged’ (He would have advanced to attack formation first!)

Examples that I felt could be tricky includes, range of artillery batteries and their special rules in 'ap' (action points) usage. In a sense, Artillery units don’t ‘die’. They get ‘boxes’ marked off. This felt kind of weird. (If I was the Artillery commander, I would have deliberately destroy my guns before it fell into enemy hands!)

Force marches for infantry or cavalry units are quite dependent on the current situation. On Day 1, the Union need to rush Schurz and Barlow up to booster the defences and await Sickles and Skyes to fill up the gaps. The cost in disorganization is rather large as compared to the need to defend. Worst yet, you need a turn to deploy your brigades in an advantages line before it could hold or slow down the initial Confederates.

On the first day, the Confederates have it better, as each reinforcement could be easily rushed to the battle without force marching. Due to the initial empty space, brigades could deploy easily and advance forward without units getting in each other’s way. Commanders are deployed in such a way that their range in hexes could still be in contact with their brigades. However, this rule sometimes places these commanders in hexes that seem ridiculous on their own just to maintain such ‘contact’.

On the second day, both sides feel the need to rush units to the front and thus disorganization points started to accumulate. We are not sure if this strategy is useful, but it seem to us, that the side that has reinforcements fed into the battle will have some edge in causing more casualties and disorganization to the enemy.

The hexes force units to face in certain way. In our game, we started off having a battle-front along a northeast/southwest alignment, turning a North-South direction around the beginning of day 3. This I felt is probably historical but seem more to the way the hexes and the roads are drawn and as such, the way reinforcement columns starts to arrive.

The battleline markers being able to be ‘detached from the corners’ for flanking fire is both devastating and cumbersome. So many times, I believe we have forgotten about flank fire and equally many times, we can’t remember which flanking marker belongs to which unit. (Especially so near the crowded small round top on day 3.)


Weird stuff/tactics are being used as we got comfortable to the system.

One that bugs me most is the pushing of (1) weakened units (a few strength points left) to the frontlines, so that their accompanying artillery may fire. This give rise to a battlefield that felt more like WW1 trench warfare than Gettysburg.

(2) Rushing a small battery (or those that has nearly expanded all its ammunition) up front to ‘place’ a range of influence to disrupt enemy movement seem to be another neat trick.

(3) Once you have the advantage, you will want to press on the assault, even if your brigade has advanced out of commander’s range or get stranded behind enemy lines. This is a good tactic in game terms, but looking at the isolated pocket does give one a questioning about the historical accuracy of the game. ( More than once we were pointing at ‘Stalingrad 6th Army’ more than ‘Jenkins’.)

(4) Sit the boys out in Rest formation for about an hour or 2 for lunch and they will be ready again into the breach.

(5) How come all artillery units have similar ‘values in boxes’? (Did not know that they could distribute cannon balls so equally! Haha ...)

(6) The night turns are too long...... these turns ended up both sides adjusting units facing each other and fully recovered from disorganization levels, ready to rock and roll again.

On our follow up sessions, we noticed that we are running out of markers. I drew my own, rough ones, with counters from other games. We needed 2 copies of unit status sheet. After the first 2 days, the status sheet for units that has been engaged is full of pencil makings and cancellations..... so do make a few copies if you intend to play.

Finished this game for quite a few days already, but can’t help but feel something is lacking. Was it worth the time spent? I don’t really know. My opponent is completely out. He doesn’t want to play any more gunpowder games for the next few months. There were many occasions that we were completely involved in the fire resolution of our units but other side-battles seem to be just ‘rolling the die’ and get it over with and done. It’s above average for simulation of brigades’ formation and assault, but falls below with regards to artillery units.

I can’t compare it much to the other Gettysburg game. The scale, the size of the brigades, the gun usages and commanders standing in the open, all produces a different flavour to the battle. I have a slightly higher than average feel for the game.

One thing I do agree, it’s a huge battle..... It really is.
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Eric Walters
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This is a very accurate review and quite insightful. Thanks so much for sharing it!

I thought the basic and intermediate game (particular the latter) were better than the advanced game. The intermediate game was the best in the package, IMO. My biggest problem with the Advanced Game was the sheer congestion of counters on the map--even with tweezers I had problems. Was difficult to see what terrain units were on when the lines were formed and it was such a pain to do factor counting and such with markers given how easy it was to jostle units out of place. I'd have to take the map to a print shop and blow it up at least twice to three times the size to be able to play it through.

Back when this game was published, its only competition was SPI's venerable Terrible Swift Sword. The prime advantage of the AH title was that you got three levels of play and a more compact advanced game (but as I mention above, that has its disadvantages). The map certainly felt far more realistic than did the SPI title, for sure. But TSS--despite its pre-errata flaws--was an easier game to play for the reasons outlined above.

These days, there really is little to no reason to drag out this beast. There are good basic and intermediate level Gettysburg games that are better than the ones in this set; for the ultimate Gettysburg gaming experience, The Three Days of Gettysburg (third edition), Summer Storm: The Battle of Gettysburg, This Hallowed Ground trump the old SPI title...and Dean Essig is working on a "Lines of Battle" system version of Gettysburg to replace This Hallowed Ground. But even if you don't want to devote that kind of physical space to a wargame, one can search E-bay and other convention auctions for a copy of Thunder at the Crossroads (second edition), which is the best brigade-level simulation of the battle and shares a very good command system with its bigger brethren.


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M Stumptner
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It's been some years since I played this one. I think the Advanced Game is a fascinating design, ahead of its time. Unfortunately also ahead of the development capability of its time. I think it generated 3 pages of errata in the GENERAL, something I have never seen for any other game. Its handling of the soft factors and also formations is realy interesting. One of the most impressive features is how a unit that has won an assault becomes fatigued thereby becomes vulnerable to a counterattack by the defender's fresh reserves even if those are of lesser quality. Yes, you can push individual units forward but they will (as I think you point out yourself) become quite vulnerable by that. I have no problem with units becoming ready again for combat after a few hours. It is losses that are permanent. Many simpler games conflate the two, which is not a bad thing, but one aspect that you get in more detailed games is that destroying a unit is a very different thing from pushing it out of position.

Unfortunately, as you point out, it has some quite rough edges. A dozen years later, the Gamers' CWB came out which has a roughly similar level of detail, better historicity and better handling of the soft factors. For me Thunder at the Crossroads (second edition) does almost everything that Advanced Gettysburg ever did and does most of it better.

(The other two versions of the game are in my view completely forgettable. This was the second hex-based wargame I ever played and the first ground wargame and even from that vantage point I found them bland and featureless. As far as I know neither generated a single article in the GENERAL over the next decades. The Advanced Game was what caught people's attention. Personally tried the Advanced Game back then, and we failed to understand how it worked, which is not surprising. More than a decade later, with much more experience and armed with the GENERAL errata, I went back to it to actually play it.)

Concerning the map, it is based on a late 19th century survey of the battlefield. It has some major flaws (roads not being fitted to hexes etc) but overall it is an attempt to use a historical map and I agree it looks great. The farms (which by the way you can find on newer maps at this scale such as Thunder at the Crossroads (second edition) or Summer Storm: The Battle of Gettysburg) are typically near the big roads - but you have roads leading from the farms into the fields.

The map was widely criticised at the time for the lack of serious terrain effects (other than the hills affecting line of sight). However it has to be noted that most of the hills in the area have a very very slight slope (this includes Cemetery Ridge), and when I got my copy of Thunder at the Crossroads I found that the terrain effects are largely similar.

For today's audience I'd describe the game similar to the way you do it. It's one you want to have played once but probably not more than that.
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Chris Stimpson
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My experience of G77 was somewhat negative. The basic game was a "why bother?", and I set the intermediate game up a couple of times - it should have been just right - but never quite got into it. As for the advanced game.... Did the designer/playtesters ever actually play the game through?

I set it up in a location where I spent two evenings a week, and played for months solitaire. It got to where I was stubbornly determined to finish the darn thing. I would take it out of its resting place, play a turn a night, then put it back. It took so long I actually took a rest and played a complete solitaire game of Russian Campaign before going back to it. Finally, after about 18 months, I was just starting Day 3 of the battle but had to pack it up (I was moving house!)

When both armies were on the field I found that each one could deploy from one side of the board to the other IN DOUBLE LINE. No-one was going to outflank anyone here. Also, you could set up the best defensive line possible on a ridge (IIRC, differential height didn't factor into it in the rules), only to have that line easily assaulted and pushed back. In the battle, the Confederates took Cemetery Ridge and Hill, and the Union were on the low ground facing northwest.

As the OP wrote, the terrain map in the rules actually confused things, so I ignored it.

It was one of those cases where I thought about all the other things I could have been doing with my time... like playing games which actually had play value.

Oh yes... I still have it. Good condition, but probably won't get played again. Anyone interested in buying? Send private e-mail.

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p55carroll
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M St wrote:
(The other two versions of the game are in my view completely forgettable. This was the second hex-based wargame I ever played and the first ground wargame and even from that vantage point I found them bland and featureless. As far as I know neither generated a single article in the GENERAL over the next decades. The Advanced Game was what caught people's attention.)

Not everybody's. I bought the game when it was brand-new, and it appealed to me because I had become a Civil War buff and had always been disappointed that earlier versions of Gettysburg were outdated, intro-level affairs. By 1977 I had several years of wargaming under my belt, and now I was thinking, At last--a real wargame on Gettysburg!

Mind you, I had been pretty much ignoring SPI. And if I'd heard of TSS, I turned a blind eye to it just because it was way too damned big. It's still off my wish list, for the very same reason.

As to the advanced game of Gettysburg '77, that instantly dropped off my radar too. I opened the box and looked the game over, and then played the basic game and started on the intermediate game, but it was clear at first glance that the advanced game was something I'd only try in the distant future after getting my fill of the intermediate game.

Turned out I got distracted by other games before that ever happened. And when I started reading about the problems others were having, I figured I'd never try the advanced game. Eventually I abandoned the whole game and moved on.

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G. Harding Warren
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What a fine, thoughtful review of the Advanced Game.

I just want to add as an aside that there are a handful of us out here who really dig the Intermediate Game. I am thankful that one of those small number happens to be a game designer, Paul Koenig. Mr. Koenig took the Intermediate Game system and made another game out of it: Shiloh: Bloody April, 1862. This game is wonderful and actually got me back into Gettysburg '77.

The Intermediate Game is a bloody affair that plays very simply, on the complexity level of The Russian Campaign or Anzio (basic game). The CRT rewards an aggressive posture for both sides, so the game is action packed.

The only downsides I ever saw with Gettysburg '77 Intermediate were physical--I loved the counter art, but found that once the brigades were on their reduced-strength sides, the aesthetic "flavor" of the game got lost--the player know long knew which brigades they were commanding, as the reverse sides of the counters showed only combat strengths rather than the unit's OB information. On top of this (in the metaphorical and literal sense), the counters were often buried under markers showing the unit's morale status, so you always had to fiddle around with your stacks. Finally, the elevations on the map were a bit confusing, as there could be multiple elevations within one hex and you had to determine which elevation the hex's central dot referred to.

The back-side counter art and the elevation problems have been solved in Mr. Koenig's design and we are left with something very good.

His Chancellorsville game is now on preorder from Legion Wargames. His Gettysburg design is in its development process.

I am glad someone resurrected this tremendous and fun game system.
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The problem with the basic game is you can't know anything about the battle and play it. The unions best tactic is to run away until they achieve a parity of strength. No delaying action etc. Any attempt at delay only gets union troops killed making it harder to obtain parity of strength.

Once enough Union Artillery is in you can start nibbling at the flanks of the Rebs. He can't be strong everywhere and as long as you are trading even with him you are ok. At least that was the memory.

So my guess is people playing the Union try and fight the battle historically and get crushed because of it, when giving up the ridge line is the only way to avoid being crushed early.

So the basic game is not historical, but if you play the game for the game you can achieve a balance of sorts.

And it's a simple game to intro new people into wargaming.
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