Robert "Smitty" Smith
History is replete with famous charges. The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea War. The Greek hoplites at Marathon and Plataea. The Scots under Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. The Zulus at Isalwanda. Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top at Gettysburg. But none, simply none of these mirror Pickett's Charge in terms of capturing the imagination. Moreover, it wasn't per se a charge either, it was a measured march in formation across a mile of open ground, while under fire much of the way, on OPEN ground. Being under fire is hard enough but marching for a mile under fire simply still boggles any reasonable mind. The hubris of Lee that day to imagine his brave troops could accomplish that with no tactical subtlety and nothing to distract the Union on the flanks seems simply nightmarish in any military textbook. But what would I have done that day if confronted with Lee's dilemma?
Pickett's Charge, The Third Day of Gettysburg, 2017 (PC) is a simple recreation of that fateful day, when the south gave up the ghost of military victory, draining away its lifeblood in the farmlands of Pennsylvania. For those of us who grew up with Terrible Swift Sword, this game might seem overly simple, but often less is more. The question is, did White Dog make a game where less is more?
PC is a folio game previously released, accompanied by a Bill Molyneaux design on Gettysburg. However, WDG seriously upgraded the overall game package, albeit as a zip-lock. The original map was a 17" by 11 1/2", sort of a middle-graphic effort that made the original Desk Top Publishing effort much better. The original map was a nice rigid cardstock. The battlefield was well enough represented and the overall effect was pleasing enough in the DTP sense. The new map is indeed both more pleasing and almost feel period like by the use of the softer earth tones used to represent terrain. The sixty-nine counters are delineated by Union Forces by their Corps Designations, and Confederates by the name of the lead such as Garnett. The new counters are much thicker than the previous ones and will hold up well to a substantial amount of replays. The first version came with two Unit Strength Tracks, for you to track your casualty losses on. It was functional and worked but I wasn't sorry to see it go in the re-release.
If you can't start playing this game in fifteen minutes you're probably in trouble, as the rules are all of four pages. The rules are such as to allow the player to quickly jump into play. It's a straight up tactical slugfest so no need to worry about supply. There are no command rules to interfere with play - and why should there be with this battle? They were aiming for the Copse of trees and were going to go until they got there. I did have some trouble with the artillery worry on the Confederate side however. The game also neatly simulates the confusion with the Confederate artillery support moving forward, as they are not allowed to move until the third turn. Considering artillery can only move one hex a turn, it only provides in a sense suppressing fire. We know the ammo ran out to support Pickett's Charge and here you can find units via die roll ending up being exhausted and out of the game in essence. Another simple but nice touch.
Gary Graber published a game very similar to this which I found to be fun. I consider this a more upgraded version of that game, with higher quality components. The victory conditions are pretty simple, but excruciatingly hard to fulfill. In the previous version, you counted each remaining Confederate Strength Point that was within one hex of or on Cemetery Ridge at the end of the game. Now you need to be in physical possession of Cemetery Ridge Hexes, a huge difference. Well good luck to the Confederate Player because you are going to simply take horrific losses that might make even the cardboard gamer blanch. The losses become so terrible and the cardboard carnage so real, you just want to turn your shredded cardboard right around.
16 CSA SP's close and 14 coming up - if we have really good rolls, the artillery manages to hit something and the Union Player doesn't roll any hits saved for their terrain
Set up is truly a breeze. The starting positions are on the map and allows for a quick set, with each unit coded with a number in its right hand corner to expedite set-up. Even with only sixty-nine units you are still happy for that. In the first version, one could tinker with Confederate start positions and if they were placed closer than their historic start to the Union line, the Union artillery got a bombardment turn like the Confederates. That rule was dropped and it's no loss.
The Confederates have to hope for great success on their initial bombardment. You are praying that every artillery unit rolls a five or six for the hit. Each hit reduces a unit causing it to flip to its reduced side. Strength points do not matter for bombardment in terms of firepower. The Confederate Player rolls for what impact this sustained bombardment had on his artillery units. Each artillery group rolls one die, with a roll of four or five flipping it to its inactive side and a roll of six makes it inactive.
Confederate movement requires an activation role the first four turns. You have a 50% chance to activate and move. On Turn four in the previous version all units were released to move. Now the release of all units is moved to turn five and made optional. The beauty of this activation system is we see another one of those elements that works against the Confederate Player, making it harder to coordinate the movement of this assault over a mile while under fire and still be within supporting distance. I found it a nice way to simulate the Fog of War here. The Union Player - they almost never move. However the new solitaire rules have Union units move on a roll of five or six if they are within four hexes of a Confederate unit. This rule does not apply to Union units behind the Stone Fence or on Cemetery Hill.
What the Union Player does is pour fire into the Confederate assault. Even at five hexes Union artillery has a 17% chance of making the Confederate retreat one hex. Hazlett's battery on Little Round Top can fire now from six to ten hexes away but no longer get the a +1 modifier for its die rolls as in the first version. However they do have a 50% chance of a hit. You total up how many Strength Points are firing at a given target and roll that many dice. At the range of two to three hexes small arms only has a one in six chance of a hit but if the Confederate assault is staggered, this allows for a lot of fire on those who moved off early. Each six that is rolled by artillery produces a one hex retreat and even a one hex retreat is a loss of time the Confederate can ill afford. A four or five die roll produces a step loss by artillery at the one hex range. The designer nicely simulates the impact of effective canister fire with this simple fire result. It's easy to see how the Rebel assault can quickly melt away. I will note that the artillery range and hit rules are modified from the original version, producing better results now in terms of accuracy.
I played with the additional infantry support rule. It just gave me the illusion of hope a little longer. The JEB Stuart and Culp Hill rules did about the same. However the Effective Confederate Bomardment rule makes it far more interesting and gives an ahistorical balance of sorts. It's worth your time to try that one out several times. I also like the saved Hit rules, that for Union units taking direct non-bombardment fire hits that are located in Woods, the Stone Wall, or Hill Terrain can upon a die roll of five or six ignore the hit.
We finally got a hole - up we go on Turn 7 but we have no support and he's whacked.
I should note we played this game with the additional Confederate Infantry support rule.
Lord I love playing this game despite knowing I'm going to get my head handed to me. Surprisingly fun - and surprisingly accurate in terms of results and play. It's like playing pinball, for you find yourself just wanting to play one more game. It's a better than average folio game in terms of components, a subject most of us like, easy to set up and play - and again the f word - FUN. I was personally glad to see this neat little game get a face-lift and republished. At its worse, it's war game filler...but the type of war game filler I love. It earned a place in my house and it's a keeper.