Recommend
60 
 Thumb up
 Hide
10 Posts

Three Battles of Manassas» Forums » Reviews

Subject: 3 years of fighting, all in one neat package rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Dan Taylor
United States
Berryville
Virginia
flag msg tools
badge
Just Another Washed Up Wargamer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
3 Battles of Manassas is the latest offering from MMP in the “Civil War Brigade Series.” It features 2 actual battles and a third, hypothetical battle in the area of Manassas and Centerville Virginia. The first is McDowell versus the Confederate Army of the Potomac in the first large battle of the war in the East. The second is John Pope and the luckless Army of Virginia against the Confederates at the height of their power. The third is a hypothetical post-Gettysburg battle in which Meade and Lee square off.

Unlike some of my other reviews of the CWBS games, this review will cover the Civil War Brigade Series rules, as this game is currently in print. (And thus, not only available via trade or ebay.)

The Civil War Brigade Series game, as one might expect, is a brigade level treatment of a particular battle. The “series” part refers to the fact that there is a core set of moderately complex rules to read initially, but once mastered one need only read usually 3-4 pages of “special rules” for a particular game in the series, and typically those are relatively straightforward. The rules are a touch verbose, but the game system hums along very nicely once a few turns are under a player’s belt.

Counters for the games range from Spartan to very nice as the game series progresses. Later offerings (like Manassas) feature full-color counters and maps. Unit counters, representing brigades, feature information such as their commander’s name, unit organization as well as morale level and initial fire level. Divisional, corps and army leaders also make an appearance, and have their name and a rating (from “0”to “4”) printed on their counter. (0 being reserved for the McClellans of the world and the “4s” for the Longstreet and Lees.)

Series Gameplay

The actual gameplay is a relatively straightforward Igo-Hugo turn sequence. Each player begins with his command phase (much more on that later.) Each player then maneuvers his brigades using movement points, paying extra for woods and other rough terrain. Units can also engage in “close combat” in the movement phase, a particularly destructive form of fire combat that usually leaves someone in a bad morale state.

Once finished moving, the defender gets a chance to fire his brigades at the enemy. Fire combat is handled on a CRT and tends to be fairly bloody. Losses (and the inappropriately named “stragglers”) are marked off on a strength chart. Losses are (obviously) troops that can’t be replaced, while stragglers represent those troops blown loose from their units and may return after a few hour’s rest. Brigades also have a “wrecked” level that indicates when a brigade has taken too many losses. Wrecked brigades suffer terrible morale effects and their use in battle is dubious, at best.

The target unit then takes a morale check. Based on the unit’s morale (Which range in letters from A to E - A being the Iron Brigade and E being "heavy infantry" just down from the DC defenses), a unit can suffer a variety of fates. There are modifiers to the column being rolled on depending on the situation and morale state of the brigade. (A brigade already disorganized and then hit in the flank with fire will probably suffer a bad morale effect.) “No effect” is always a possibility (and a probability for units with “A” and “B” morale levels), while “Shaken” and “Disorganized” show the unit getting progressively worse off. The unit can also “Rout,” a pell-mell run for the rear that takes some work to recover from.

The attacker then fires his units in return against the defender, who takes losses and makes morale checks in much the usual way.

The last phase sees the active player's unit’s morale states go up by one (Rout ->DG-SH-> Normal) and units that have rested that turn can recover stragglers.

Command Phase or "Move it, you so-and-so!"

All this is pretty standard fare for a brigade level game, but one must return to the “command phase” to see where the series really shines. In order to move units or engage in any kind of serious combat, a command (either corps or division) must be given orders. The army commander receives a certain number of “command points” a turn, which can be spent on writing orders. Orders can be dictated orally to aides (very easy) or written down (a little harder), and can be given a “force” from 0 to 2, representing the commander’s insistence on the order being completed. (From “take the hill, if practicable” to “take the hill or die.”) Orders are also considered “simple” or “complex,” the former rarely used (only to shift troops within a perfectly safe line) and the latter much more common. (Any order with the possibility of fighting.)

Once having spent the points to generate the order, the player actually writes down an order for that particular command in a paragraph. Anything from “At dawn, attack south to capture Big Hill and defend it” to “At dawn, attack south along Rocky Road to capture Big Hill, and Antioch church. Send 1/Div to support 6 Corps attack on your flank.” would be acceptable.

Having done all that work, the player then counts the distance from the order writer to the recipient and divides it by how far a leader (or orderly) can move in a turn. As a result orders can take anywhere from 1 to 4-5 turns to arrive at the recipient’s headquarters. The army commander could also give orders "in person," but he must leave his headquarters in order to do so, which makes further order writing impossible, at least until he returns.

Once the order has arrived there, the recipient general rolls for acceptance, representing both his desire to carry out the order and how long it takes to inform his subordinates. The complexity of the order, its force and its method (aide written, oral or "in person") as well as the commander’s ranks (0-4, remember) are added together and a table consulted along with a die roll.

There are four results possible in the table. An “A” result on the table (all too rare) means the order is accepted, and the player must begin to carry it out. A “D1” result means that the order is delayed. On subsequent command phases, the player must roll a 1 or 2 on a 1d6 to have the order be “accepted.” A dreaded “D2” result is the same as a “D1” result, except the player must roll a 1 on a 1d6 to have the order accepted. A “Dt” means that the order has been “distorted” and completely misunderstood, so the whole process must start again.

Players can also roll for “initiative” for their generals, with a “4” ranked general having the most chance for initiative and a “0” having a 1 in 36 chance a turn of getting initiative. The upside is that any orders created by initiative are automatically accepted. The downside is that if the player rolls a “2” on 2d6, the leader becomes a “loose cannon” and is controlled by the player’s opponent for the turn. (While “attacking your own side” is taboo, pulling an entire corps out of line and marching for the rear isn’t.)

As a result of this system, the player is forced to plan ahead when writing orders, knowing, as many Civil War commanders did, that there may be delays in their executions. Battlefields change by the hour, yet orders are difficult to put into motion.

Once having orders, units must stay a certain number of movement points from their corps headquarters (or division commander) when attacking. Once on the attack, the player’s problems aren’t solved. Each turn of fighting, every attacking (and, if using suggested optional rules, defending) corps commander must made an “attack/defense” stoppage check, based on the condition of his troops at the time. As a commander’s divisions are slowly wrecked by combat, it becomes more and more likely he will stop carrying out his orders and simply pull his troops back out of the fighting. Depending on a leader’s rating (0 to 4) he may stick to his orders longer, but stopping is inevitable. Once “stopped,” a command needs new orders in order to move or attack again, and the command cycle continues.

While this seems complicated, the command system is relatively straightforward if played in the “spirit” of the rules. That spirit, of course, is one of agonizing frustration as your units ignore the flank attack for hours while another section of your line attacks an enemy stronghold that a few hours earlier was lightly held. This means that the series’ game are excellent historical tools but can make for some poor games, depending on the situation. (Even the best “4” ranked generals usually take a few turns to get their troops moving, and look out if you’ve got a “0” on either side of the command equation!) While an excellent simulation, the rules make "competitive" play a little harder than other games.

Manassas Specific

3BoM contains three separate games played on the same maps, representing three different battles. The counters for all 3 games are excellent, with corps silhouettes and state’s profiles abounding as appropriate. The maps continue MMP’s move toward quality and are clean and utilitarian.

The terrain is varied, with large open plains contrasting with more wooded areas, and even a town or two. Roads are omnipresent and crossroads abound, so moving troops and fighting is relatively easy. There are a handful of odd terrain quirks (such as the sunken road and the entrenchments outside Centreville), but nothing compared to other games in the series.

Each “battle” comes with its own (short) rulebook and scenarios. The game specific rules are short and uncomplicated, though the command rules for the first battle take a bit of getting used to.

The first battle sees an untested and untried Union army attempting to outflank the Confederates. Ample scenarios are provided to mix things up and allow the Union player to devise his own plans. While technically a “two mapper,” there are so few units in play that the battle can easily be fought in an afternoon. (Given the morale levels of the forces involved they may not stand up to much pounding.) This game, despite its different command rules is a good introduction to the game system.

Having digested the first battle, the player can move to larger fish. The second battle features two large armies made up of veterans preparing to go at it. Jackson’s command begins alone and the Union player must keep Longstreet from arriving long enough to get forces to crush Jackson. The Union army is riddled with dissent (Pope’s arrival wasn’t cared for by many of the Eastern army), so getting them to move in the same direction is difficult, especially for someone of Pope's caliber. This battle is the centerpiece of the set, with lots of additional forces and options available to really explore what might have happened in the battle.

The third battle is hypothetical, and features a variety of situations around the battle of Bristoe Station in late 1863. The Confederates have better forces and a good command structure (as usual), and the Union army is still recovering from Gettysburg. The Confederates still have their pluck and dash, but are outnumbered (what else is new) by the Union forces, who have difficulty with offensive moves in general.

What makes 3BoM so good, in my opinion, is the snapshots each battle gives of command structure throughout the first part of the war. First battle sees the Confederates with the headache of brigade-sized units and the Union with only divisions. The second battle sees both sides with corps, but the Union hampered by Pope’s incompetence while the Confederates have the “dream team.” (Lee, Longstreet, Jackson and Stuart.) The third (hypothetical) battle features an ailing Union structure, suffering from post-Gettysburg shock and the Confederates doing marginally better. Each battle has a different set of command problems for each side and really gives a player a feeling for the changes in command in the armies as the war progressed.

Final Thoughts

The CWBS is a fairly complex (at least initially) wargame. While its gameplay is relatively simple, the command system and its subtleties take a lot of time to get used to. What one can and can’t do without orders is a subject of some debate as well as the legality of some types of orders. More than any other wargame I’ve played, this game needs to be played by people with similar understandings of the rules. I almost want to say that the game should be played for the experience and not to “win,” but I suppose some of the shorter scenarios could be played competitively. That's just my opinion, of course.

On the plus side, the games play very well solitaire. The written orders aspect makes it very easy to play each side alone.

With regards to 3BoM, the historical situation for the Union in the second and third battle isn’t very optimistic. The Union army in the second battle only marginally outnumbers the more quality Confederates, and their command structure is very lethargic. Given some reinforcements from the "optionals" and the battle begins to be a little more interesting, as the Union army begins to have enough force to really crush the Confederates in spite of Pope.

The Union army in the third “battle” is gun-shy, almost incapable of taking the offensive without heavy prodding. While fun as historical lessons (and why are you playing the game, if not at least for that partially), the games show more how inept the Union leadership was at times during the war than anything else.

I believe that 3BoM is the best offering in the CWBS to date. It's got almost 3 separate games within it, with completely different tactical situations and commanders. It includes a "starter game" in First Manassas which allows a new player to come to grips with the system before giving him the third and second battles to chew on. If the idea of written orders is at all appealing to you, and you're interested in the Civil War, then this is the game for you.
29 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Miikka Rytty
Finland
Helsinki
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Excellent review. Now I would like play this game again.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Peter Vrabel
United Kingdom
Cambridge
UK
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmb
Excellent review. How long do these games take to play?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dan Taylor
United States
Berryville
Virginia
flag msg tools
badge
Just Another Washed Up Wargamer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thank you, both of you for your kind words.
Myself, I think the game length really depends on scenario and number of forces involved. For instance, you could probably play the "full historical battle" of either First Manassas or Champion Hill in 6 hours or so, possibly a little less once you understood the system. There just aren't a lot of pieces on the board shooting at one another and the command structure is relatively simple.
All the games include smaller scenarios which have a bit of a tradeoff - most of the time, it's an all-out tactical slugfest without a lot of opportunity to use the command system. It lets you play around with tactics and the combat system without having to at the same time do calming exercises on yourself. ("I'm losing because General X won't accept his @#*&(@# orders! AAA!") On the other hand, the command system is really the charm of the series and without it play is a little dry.
So, to answer the question:
6 hours?: Small battle scenarios or smaller big scenarios.
12 hours?: Moderate battles (Antietam, for example)
24+ hours?: Full battle scenarios in larger games (Gettysburg, Barren Victory, 2cnd Manassas)

There is a lot of automation you can do (there are computer programs out there to resolve fire combat at the stroke of a key, so if you assume a sort of "shoot at the guy across from you" mentality its possible to get fire combat through in 5-10 minutes a turn in a turn with a lot of offensive actions.)
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Daniel Val
Luxembourg
Luxembourg
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice review!

The downside is now I want the game.

1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Prowell
United States
Seattle
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
mb
Thanks for the lengthy review, Dan. I'm glad you like the game!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Prowell
United States
Seattle
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
mb
Heh, I dunno, Keith.

I've done some work on a CWB-level Corinth game, and I've also given some thoughts to an RSS game on Cedar Mountain -- that'd be a GREAT topic -- but working on the next edition of Totaler Krieg and its Pacific counterpart (Dai Senso) takes up just about all my design time. Hopefully, that project is going to start drawing to a close here soon.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Brauner
United States
Oak Park
Illinois
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
One thing about this volume is that there doesn't seem to be a record for keeping track of artillery ammo or casualties, like in Malvern Hill. Unless I've missed it in one of the maps.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Andrew Schultz
United States
Texas
flag msg tools
mb
Now I see why there is only one reiew here, it's excellent!
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Greg Bales

Indiana
msg tools
mb
I'm very very late here (as usual) but I love your review and agree with almost all of it. Since MMP is no longer supporting these games and announced its intention not to reprint them, I don't feel guilty in saying that you can get this game on VASSAL and all of the rules and charts at MMP for almost all of the CWBS games. (I've also bought several of them and am disappointed I won't be able to get more.)
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.