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Dead of Winter (second edition)» Forums » Reviews

Subject: GMT's Dead of Winter: a first-look Review rss

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Michael Lavoie
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Dead of Winter (second edition) is the latest title in GMT Games’ version of the Great Battles of the American Civil War regimental-level battle series. I have examined the game thoroughly, but since I have not yet had the chance to play any of the scenarios except the introductory offering, I can’t give it a real review. This, then, will serve as a first impressions report on this new wargame.

The GBACW series dates back to the original version of Terrible Swift Sword: Battle of Gettysburg Game, which was designed by Richard H. Berg and was published by SPI back in 1976. Numerous games in the series have been published since then, first by SPI and later by Berg’s own game company Simulation Design Incorporated. Most recently, GMT picked up the baton and has released the last several titles. Dead of Winter (second edition) is listed as Volume V in GMT’s version of the series (the others being Three Days of Gettysburg (third edition), River of Death: Battle of Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863, Red Badge of Courage, and Gringo!). It covers the Battle of Stones River, or Murfreesboro if one is from south of the Mason-Dixon Line, fought in Tennessee as 1862 gave way to 1863.

GMT’s edition of the game is a remake of the 1990 version designed by Berg and published by SDI. That game could certainly use some updating. It used Berg’s "Turn Continuation Table" version of GBACW, an orgy of dice-rolling in which a player designated a combat formation (referred to as a "command," usually a division) to activate for movement and combat, then rolled on the TCT to see if he could actually move and fight with that command or if play would pass to his opponent. Not everyone liked this version of the system. I enjoyed it, but the excessive dicing could get tedious, particularly in large battles. The current incarnation of the series uses Activation Marker chits, drawn blindly from a cup, to determine which command gets to move and fight at any given time. This gives a nice air of uncertainty to the game, since neither player ever knows exactly who is going to play next.

The GBACW System

Integral to all versions of the game system is the chain of command. Combat units, which are generally regiments, can only function effectively if they are in command range of their brigade leader. That officer must then be within range of his division leader, who must be within range of his Corps commander. If the chain of command is broken, units are considered Out of Command and are limited in how they can move and fight. As units take losses, their brigades and divisions lose "combat effectiveness" and the player’s cardboard army loses much of its punch.

The individual regiments are rated for combat strength, morale (referred to here as "cohesion"), and the type of weapon carried by the troops comprising that unit. Strength is based on the number of men present; one strength point represents either 50 or 100 men, depending on the game (recent games, including Dead of Winter, use 50 men per point). Weapon type affects fire combat, with units armed with better weapons having an advantage. Cohesion is perhaps the most important rating, as many situations during game play will call for a die roll to be made against that rating. Units with low morale will prove quite fragile, regardless of how many strength points they possess. Managing all these ratings and the command system to get the most out of one’s army is the key to winning a GBACW game.

Combat in this system has two flavors. Fire combat can occur at a range of several hexes and causes strength point losses and disorder. Disordered units suffer reduced cohesion and movement ratings, and further disorder results lead to retreats and routs. Shock assault occurs between adjacent units or stacks and generally causes one side or the other to retreat. The rules encourage armchair generals to soften up enemy troops with fire before assaulting to drive defenders off and take a position.

Extensive rules cover movement, rallying disordered and routed units, constructing defensive fortifications to aid in combat, and, optionally, fatigue. The fatigue rules add an extra layer of complexity and bookkeeping, but are highly recommended. The effects of fatigue serve to prevent players from pushing their troops too hard, a common problem in wargames in which cardboard armies can withstand far more intense combat than their historical flesh-and-blood counterparts.

What’s in the Box?

Dead of Winter (second edition) is a pretty hefty package. The game includes four 22" by 34" maps, four countersheets totaling 1120 counters (and a supply of small bags to store them in), a whole slew of player aids, one ten-sided die, and two 32-page rulebooks. The Series Rulebook contains the latest iteration of the GBACW rules. The other rulebook is the Battle Book, which gives the rules specific to this battle as well as the information needed to set up and play the many scenarios provided by designer Dave Powell. There’s also a lengthy historical commentary, something I always welcome in a wargame.

One would think that, given the age of this series and the number of games in it, there would be no issues with the series rules. Recent discussions on Consimworld about line-of-sight rules and stacking (multiple units in the same space on the map) effects prove that assumption to be false. Despite those issues, this is a good clean rules set. GBACW veterans will feel right at home, while newcomers should be able to learn this game system without much trouble; it’s fairly complex, but there’s nothing that should overwhelm the new player.

The game includes a one-map, one-turn introductory scenario (covering some preliminary skirmishing the day before the actual Battle of Stones River began) to help players get their feet wet. After that, there are ten scenarios offering players the choice to play various portions of the overall battle, as well as the full battle that lasted several days. Six of these scenarios are played on one or two maps, so players lacking the space to set up the full four maps can still enjoy this game. The smaller scenarios should be playable in a couple of hours, while the four-mappers are monster game territory requiring an immense commitment of time and space.

Alas, there are some glitches, not really surprising in a game of this size and complexity. There’s nothing showstopping here, but there are a few minor annoyances. Two commands are missing their Activation Markers, and the March AMs (a special form of movement used by troops far away from enemy forces, such as reinforcements just entering the battlefield) are also AWOL. There are a few blank counters on the four countersheets in the game, so making up your own until GMT is able to provide us with actual AM markers is a snap. There is also a small amount of errata that has surfaced thus far, which is available right now on the GBACW topic on Consimworld.

How does it play?

Unfortunately, as stated above I have not yet been able to play anything but the introductory scenario. However, I am familiar with the series, having played it in its various forms for over 25 years. I’m also familiar with the battle, as I’ve played a number of games on Murfreesboro (see my Geeklist on the games of Stones River). Therefore, I can give a general impression of this version of Dead of Winter (second edition). The GBACW system is surprisingly playable given the complexity and level of detail. It’s also very entertaining and gives a great feel for the difficulties of command and control on a Civil War battlefield. The rules encourage maneuvering for position rather than just slugging it out in frontal assaults (although that can vary depending on which battle is being fought). The main problem I have with the system is the stacks of combat units, commanders, and informational markers on the map. They can become awkward to maneuver, especially for the dexterity-challenged like me. Especially tedious is indicating strength point losses by putting a numbered counter beneath a unit which has taken casualties, and changing that counter as losses mount. Flipping units to their reverse side when they become disordered is also a bit awkward, but none of this is a serious issue to the grognard; we’re all used to such things.

The battle itself is one that I find interesting. Both commanders had the same basic plan, each opting to hold with his right flank and attack on the left. Confederate commander Braxton Bragg got the jump on his Union opponent, William S. Rosecrans, and launched his attack at dawn on December 31, 1862 while the Union army was just getting up and preparing for its own assault. Bragg’s attack swept much of Rosecrans’ line away at first, but the assault eventually petered out due mostly to Bragg’s ineptitude. Rosecrans and some of his subordinates (especially Phil Sheridan and George Thomas) performed particularly well. By the end of the 31st the Union army was bent but not broken, and Bragg’s chance to drive his enemy away and perhaps retake Nashville was gone. A misbegotten attack by John C. Breckinridge’s CSA division, ordered by Bragg on January 2, 1863, only served to add to the casualty lists. Tactically, the battle was a stalemate, but Bragg’s subsequent retreat turned it into a strategic victory for Rosecrans and the Union.

It’s a good battle to game. The armies are about the same size (some 40,000 troops each), unlike most Civil War battles in which the Union has a significant manpower advantage. The CSA has the advantage of early surprise, but Bragg’s ineptitude balances that out. The Union army is on the defensive, making the Confederates the more enjoyable side to play, but there are opportunities for counterattacks that keep the battle interesting for the boys in blue. The four map setup in GMT’s Dead of Winter (second edition) should offer plenty of scope for maneuvering. I should think that this would add to the replayability of the game, since players should be able to try multiple approaches and not be channeled by limited map space into the historical lines of attack.

Graphically, the GMT version of this title is a huge leap forward from Richard Berg’s SDI version published in 1990. The counters are colorful and well laid out, and the maps are very nice indeed; they were done by onetime Avalon Hill stalwart Charles Kibler, and it’s great to see his name in the credits again. The whole package is well-produced. GMT does hex-and-counter wargames as well as anyone. All in all, I can recommend Dead of Winter (second edition). I am looking forward to playing some of the one and two map scenarios sometime soon (the four-mappers are too much for my gaming space at the moment).

Edit: put in links for the games in the GMT GBACW series
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Robert Wesley
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Thanks Michael, on providing this comparison for the 2 of those, as I do have the 1st edition, and now I can use this to figure out just which is more desirable; namely, this one! You may even wish to further EDIT it some more to display the components of each with a few examples set side by side, or as close in proximity to one another that any imagery would allow. For that matter, it is also why I'd consider anything on here at BGG as being far superior in presentations upon whatever, since you can do just that. It then gives at a glance, a decent glimpse for what it is that you wished to have stand out for these and enhances the experiences of those that may not be quite familiar as regards everything, or anything on its particulars. In this way, we'll be able to look over theirs and see for ourselves what major differences, or advances if any, that have become addressed from that of the 1st or prior versions. One last item: you should either put in the direct LINK concerning any "Errata", or better still, then place this into the appropriate place under its entry here for the benefit of all from that. Keep up the good work!
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Richard Berg
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Thanx for the review . . . and I should mention that most of the advances in the system that appear in DEAD (as opposed to the previous game. . . .which, amazingly, i can't remember) . . .are from Dave Powell.

The GBACW system, per se, has changed greatly, very greatly, since the original SDI DEAD . . .

RHB
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Ian
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My greatest gaming regret is that I can't get this system to the table more often. Coupled with Great Battles of History and Musket and Pike, I've got enough great games to last a lifetime.

As a proud owner of the rest of GMT's GBACW series, I need to pick this up. Thanks for the review.
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Michael Lavoie
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GROGnads wrote:
you should either put in the direct LINK concerning any "Errata", or better still, then place this into the appropriate place under its entry here for the benefit of all from that. Keep up the good work!
cool


I was waiting for some "official" GMT errata, but I just uploaded the file I mentioned in the review. Look for it on the game's page soon, assuming it gets approved.
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Jon
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Red Metal wrote:
My greatest gaming regret is that I can't get this system to the table more often. Coupled with Great Battles of History and Musket and Pike, I've got enough great games to last a lifetime...


It's like you are in my head and reading my thoughts. Throw in the BAR and La Bat series too for me.

Very nice review. I especially like your mentioning that softening up a position is of increased importance in the latest rules set. I noticed that too from other games in the series. The "shoot to Disorder then push them away via Shock" methodology works better now than say in the old Terrible Swift Sword: Battle of Gettysburg Game days. Makes logical sense too!
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Richard Savage
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Are the counters 1/2" ones? If so, that's a deal-breaker for me.
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Greg Blanchett
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Just about all larger more detailed wargames have 1/2" counters...

...and this one is no exception.
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Richard Berg
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kemosavage wrote:
Are the counters 1/2" ones? If so, that's a deal-breaker for me.


I'd ask Why, but I'm sure the answer would be beyond my level of comprehension . . .

RHB
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Andreas Lundin
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For me larger counters that 1/2" would be a deal breaker since the game area then would be huge for a game of this scale. It wouldn't fit in my house!
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Jon
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lundinandreas wrote:
For me larger counters that 1/2" would be a deal breaker since the game area then would be huge for a game of this scale. It wouldn't fit in my house!


Oh, I thought it might have been an eyesight issue. We are all getting older...

Another question along the same lines could have been "how many maps?" which would give you (I think) the best idea as to size/space required. In the case of this game, there are four standard size maps (22" x 34"; not sure about the metric equivalent). There are one map, two map and four map scenarios.
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Richard Savage
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RHB can't figure out why wargamers would like bigger counters? I'd hate to ask him a tough question then!
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BROG wrote:
kemosavage wrote:
Are the counters 1/2" ones? If so, that's a deal-breaker for me.


I'd ask Why, but I'm sure the answer would be beyond my level of comprehension . . .

RHB


Snarky answer deserves a snarky reply - our old eyes ain't getting any younger.

Surely, despite your advanced age, you can understand that.
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Kev.
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They will ship it with a magnifying glass for you old folk! Its only $3.00 extra.
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michael esposito
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the system is AWESOME! One of the most fun wargames I ever played! Full of detail, but not too much. Only issue is it takes up ALOT of space....whistle
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thomas fernbacker
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YEEAAA!!!!
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Freddy Dekker
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Four years later and I think it's fair to assume you will have played it at least once by now.

So... what about that promissed review?
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Kevin L. Kitchens
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gb1469 wrote:
Just about all larger more detailed wargames have 1/2" counters...

...and this one is no exception.


Thanks. This just talked me off the ledge buying it. I understand why it's got tiny counters, but 5/8 is about the smallest playable size for me.
 
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