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Subject: Review - A BGG Perspective rss

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Matthew Webster
United Kingdom
Winchester
Hampshire
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There have been a number of reviews of G:BoF but none on The Geek so I hope to produce one with a slightly different perspective. One year ago I wouldn’t have considered myself a wargamer but after blowing the dust off “Napoleon” from AH and playing all the scenarios in “Memoir ‘44” I was looking for something with a bit more depth and detail. My desire to explore the American Civil War coupled with a taste for blocks led me to Columbia Games.

The game covers all 3 days of the battle between the USA (Union/North) and CSA (Confederates/South) that can be played as individual scenarios: Day 1, Sickles’ Folly and Pickett’s Charge, each lasting about 3 hours. Alternatively the entire battle can be played in a single session taking up to 8 hours. Victory at the end of each day is determined using a points system taking into account shattered (eliminated) enemy units and the strategic value of terrain (like the Peach Orchard or Cemetery Hill) gained and held by the CSA.

In the box is a large and highly detailed 34”x22” map, nearly 200 wooden blocks to which stickers must be attached, order of battle (OOB) sheets listing reinforcements for Days 1 & 2, four dice and a twelve page rule book. In usual CG-style these are living rules, reflecting a dialog between players and designer, which I recommend you download and read not only to get the most up-to-date copy but also to get a feel for the game before you consider buying. So far I have played 5 times including all of the single day scenarios.

Each highly detailed block represents a single brigade of infantry, cavalry or artillery. There are also blocks depicting the headquarters of divisional, corps and army (Meade and Lee) commanders with pictures for the senior figures. These HQs form the backbone of the game, as they are required to command units in combat and reinforce them at the end of each tunr. Each hex on the map represents 1/4 mile and has both hex terrain such as woods and town which affect stacking as well as hexside terrain such as hills and rivers which affect movement and firing. A game turn has two player turns and represents one hour of real time. At the start of each turn players roll for initiative with the winner going first.

A player’s turn consists of several phases: command, when divisional HQs are activated to allow units that are in range (1-3 hexes) to attack; fire; movement; melee, when units enter an enemy hex for short-range combat; and finally supply. It is the command and supply aspect that attracted me to the game and sets it apart from others that I have played. Each time an HQ is activated it is reduced in strength. This can only be replenished by Corps or Army HQs who themselves are reduced in the process. The result is that units can only fire a finite number of times in one day making careful management of you commanders essential.

This game takes a lot of investment in time (and money at $80 plus shipping) both in reading the rules and at the table. However after reading Stephen W. Sears’ excellent book on the campaign I am impressed with the way the game gives the same feeling of being on the battlefield. The two sides are very different: the North are more numerous but weaker, the South have larger more powerful divisions but fewer of them. Artillery is devastating at short range but vulnerable if unsupported in melee and very slow if moved off road. Infantry vary greatly in both firepower and morale reflecting the quality and experience of the different brigades while Cavalry plays little part in the game apart from Buford’s defence of McPherson Ridge on the first day. Most of all the fog-of-war afforded by the blocks, which stand upright unless engaged in combat, gives the opportunity for bluff.

One difficulty with the game can be the shear number of blocks. On Day 2 playing the USA all your units are crammed onto Cemetery Hill, many not well organized after the previous day’s hasty retreat and reinforcements continue to arrive in great numbers. Trying to actually find the divisional commanders and their brigades can be quite a challenge.

The only real criticism concerns the map. I had read and dismissed comments about ambiguity in the terrain but after playing a couple of games a can see the authors’ point. Is J12-J11 a woods hexside? What about L10-K9? This is made worse when the hexes are fully stacked and the board is difficult to see.

If you are looking for a heavier game that captures the essence of the ACW and have the time to invest then I can highly recommend “Gettysburg: Badges of Courage”. I have 2 other block games but this one feels quite different. I am already looking forward to my next engagement.
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Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
Germany
Düsseldorf
NRW
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Nice review an dI expect the game to arrive any moment now.
As for the crammed blocks, I prefere those to the stacks of counters.
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Hamilton Hall
United States
Camden
Maine
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FYI with all of the columbia games the hex terrain confusion can usually be cleared up by looking to the "center" (ignoring road or other central interrupting feature) for the hex terrain type. Each of the hex sides can then have different terrain types (or combinations Steep/woods) indicated by the majority terrain type.

Hope that helps, and thanks for the review.
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