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Subject: Yaquinto’s Murfreesboro: A Unique Civil War Battle Game rss

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Michael Lavoie
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Early in my wargaming career, nearly 30 years ago, I was looking for a game on a Civil War battle that wasn’t Gettysburg. This was years before Eric Lee Smith’s The Civil War from Victory Games turned my mild interest in the period into a long-lived passion. While browsing through the wargame selection at my FLGS (a hobby store that still exists but no longer stocks games) I came across this title. It covered a battle that I knew little about, but at least it wasn’t yet another Gettysburg game! I knew the designer’s name, Richard H. Berg, from his SPI titles. Without much further thought, I bought the game. Over the years I’ve never regretted that decision.

Murfreesboro depicts the battle known as Stones River to the Northerners and Murfreesboro in the South. The fighting near that Tennessee town raged for several days, although this game covers only the battle of December 31, 1862. Historically, the battle was a bloody draw that became a Union victory when Confederate General Braxton Bragg withdrew his army and left William S. Rosecrans’ Federal army in control of the field, and of most of Tennessee. The two armies then pretty much stayed in place for months before Rosecrans finally got moving on the campaign that led to Chickamauga.

There aren’t a whole lot of games that simulate this battle; check out my Geeklist on the subject: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/43324. This game, long out of print, is one of the most accessible. It’s also unique, in that I’ve never seen another title that uses the same game system. It’s almost worth checking out for that alone. The chance to see a talented and creative game designer trying something different is almost worth the price of admission. Fortunately, Murfreesboro is also a good game.

What’s it Look Like?

Board Game: Murfreesboro


Murfreesboro comes in a flat-pack type box, as opposed to the bookcase-style boxes made famous by Avalon Hill and carried on by such companies as GMT Games. It’s rather bland-looking, the box cover being a representation of the familiar Confederate battle flag with the game’s title superimposed over it. Inside the box are the expected late 1970s wargame components: an unmounted mapsheet with a hexagonal grid (this one approximately 22" by 28"), a sheet of die-cut cardboard counters, some player aid cards, along with a six-sided die and a storage tray to hold the counters once they are punched out. Also included is a pad of roster sheets used to keep track of the combat strength of the units comprising the opposing armies.

Board Game: Murfreesboro


Three things immediately stand out about the counters. First, they are extremely thick, much thicker than standard wargame counters. This was something that Yaquinto was known for back in the day. Secondly, there is no information other than a unit name on the counters; combat strength and movement allowances are listed on the roster sheets and player aid cards. Finally, the infantry units (which are brigades) are double-length. This means that when they are set up on the map they will occupy two hexes, and it is this design choice that gives the game its unique flavor.

Board Game: Murfreesboro


The map is a pretty bland depiction of the battlefield. It’s mostly green and brown, with a splash of blue for Stone’s River, all on a light green background. However, once the colorful infantry brigade counters are set up (each is illustrated with an appropriate battle flag), the game actually looks quite good. Just seeing the game set up always made me eager to play it. Everything is competently produced and functional.

So, How About that Game System?

What sets Murfreesboro apart from most other American Civil War battle games are those double-sized infantry brigade counters. Coupled with a standard-sized hex grid, this gives rise to a wholly unique look at the difficulty of maneuvering in combat. Each full-strength brigade occupies two hexes, making moving and fighting with them just a bit awkward. It’s a subtle but effective way to illustrate the problems of battlefield command. It requires some careful planning to get those brigades where you want them to be and oriented how you want them. At first, it can seem a bit overwhelming, but once you move the units around it all falls into place pretty quickly. The feel is different from any other game, capturing some of the difficulties of battlefield maneuvering without a host of complex rules.

The two portions of each full-strength brigade counter are treated almost as two separate units. Each has its own combat strength, and each side takes losses individually. When one side takes enough losses to be eliminated, the large counter is removed from the map and replaced with a normal-sized counter, which is placed in the hex occupied by the "surviving" portion of the brigade.

Other than the above, the game is pretty straightforward. There are rules for column formation (for more efficient movement) and line formation (for better fighting). Two forms of combat are depicted, ranged fire and close assault, but the game scale and the way the rules are written means that most fighting takes place up close. Leaders are included; they represent corps commanders and are necessary for the effective movement and combat. Units must begin a turn within six hexes of a leader in order to much of anything. There are rudimentary rules covering morale, and related rules covering cavalry charge and infantry bayonet charges. Optional rules include fatigue and ammunition. These add extra realism at a cost in bookkeeping and increased playing time.

The Play’s the Thing

Murfreesboro plays pretty well once you assimilate the unusual nature of the double-size brigades. Each move is a bit of a puzzle as you try to figure out the best way to get those brigades into the right place at the right time, but it’s never (too) frustrating, and it’s certainly not boring. Given the scale (brigade-sized units, hexes representing 225 yards of terrain, turns at 40 minutes per) it is possible to play out the entire battle -- or at least the first day, which is the part simulated here -- in just a few hours using the basic rules. Adding the optional rules increases play time considerably, and I never felt that it was worth it. There’s enough going on with the standard rules to keep the game interesting.

There are a couple of drawbacks. The map at this scale pretty much channels play along historical lines (although since most players are not going to be as inept as Bragg, the game may not resemble the actual battle all that much). There’s not a whole lot of opportunity to try different approaches. Since there’s only one scenario, replay value is not as high as it could be. Also, the nature of the situation means that the onus of attack is on the Confederate player. At least in the early part of the game, the Union player is pretty much just reacting to what his opponent does. The game seems pretty well balanced; much depends on how successfully the Rebel player exploits the first-turn surprise rules. Finally, the historicity is a bit suspect. More recent scholarship has raised some questions about the unit strengths and setup positions of some of the brigades. This is not to say that the game is worthless historically; all it means is that we’ve learned some things over the last thirty years.

Bottom line: Murfreesboro is a fine game, one well worth picking up for anyone with an interest in American Civil War battles. It’s not the be-all and end-all on the subject of the Battle of Stone’s River, but it’s a unique and interesting game.

A small errata file can be found here: http://www.grognard.com/errata1/murfreesboro.txt

Edit: Linked to my Stone's River GeekList.
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Richard Berg
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My gosh . . .a voice from the past!! I don't even have my own copy of this.

I did once find a copy on sale, for $.75, in a remainder bin . . . in a store in Hong Kong!

And if i remember, there's a weird piece of errata in that units tat cannot cross rivers can retreat across them . . . or something like that.

Trying to find a copy of this sucker is an interesting task . . .

Thanx

RHB
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Michael Lavoie
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BROG wrote:
if i remember, there's a weird piece of errata in that units tat cannot cross rivers can retreat across them . . . or something like that.

RHB
I remember seeing something in some errata somewhere about full-strength brigades actually being able to cross rivers with some increase in MP cost. If I can find the errata I will link to it or post it.
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Wendell
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Great review. I don't play tactical games much but this sounds intriguing. Plus I've been studying the Civil War so the itch for ACW gaming (beyond The Civil War) has been growing...
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Dave Rubin
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"It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater or more lasting effects upon the history of the world.” — Sir George Otto Trevelyan on the Battles of Trenton and Princeton
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I've always been tickled by games with double-width counters -- the inherent clunkiness just feels right. If any of you does find the errata, I'd very much like to see them.
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Kent Reuber
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I'm a big Yaquinto fan, and I've always been on the fence about this one. I'm glad that there's now a review.

The double-sized counters are an odd choice. Yes, a brigade in single line would occupy about 500 yards of space, but often they were deployed in multiple lines. It would be odd to *have* to deploy brigades in line.
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Dave Rubin
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"It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater or more lasting effects upon the history of the world.” — Sir George Otto Trevelyan on the Battles of Trenton and Princeton
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Well, you could deploy in column, too. Short side leads, and it's a lot less clunky. At a price, of course...
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Kirk Allton
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Very good review. I bought a copy of this game back in the early '80s and have never gotten rid of it.

The only downsides to the game is the generic morale for all Southern and Northern forces, and it is somewhat difficult differentiating between a hill and a field on the map. Also, there is no division level command, only corps level.

Other than that, it is a fun game and as the review stated, it is a very unique game. The arty pieces are nice (each are 2 SP and 5 can stack in a hex) and the cavalry pieces look good also. But those two hex brigades...there is something to them. Not only is the review correct in that you have to pivot the brigade to change facing which simulates command of them, but there is something else. Each brigade have a flag on them. You get about 4-5 in a 8-10 hex line, it looks impressive on the map. There are also many times when only one half of one brigade will fire at one half of an enemy brigade, which is why there are two combat value "sides" per brigade.

I am a huge fan of Yaquinto's historical games (I don't do much fantasy...well none actually) and this game is really good. For all Civil War buffs out there, this is a must have. Not complex, not too long to play (maybe 5 hrs or so) and, as stated, an obscure battle. Can't go wrong.
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Kim Meints
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Very nice review

The game sort of got lost in the glug(if you can call it that ) back when it was published.I enjoyed the gasme when I did play it but sadly it has beenmaybe 20m years since I have had it out for a spin.Well it is now out for a future playing thanks to the review.
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Michael Lavoie
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I'm glad that you found this review, and that you'll be taking the game out for a spin soon because of it. A major reason for writing a review of an older title like this (at least for me) is to encourage people to try a game that they may not have played in a long time. Let us know how it goes!

jackiesavon wrote:
Very nice review

The game sort of got lost in the glug(if you can call it that ) back when it was published.I enjoyed the gasme when I did play it but sadly it has beenmaybe 20m years since I have had it out for a spin.Well it is now out for a future playing thanks to the review.
 
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Scott Henshaw
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This review is being used to sell a copy of this game on eBay. I hope it is you Michael, but the seller is in North Carolina.

The item # is: 200709802783

I'm having troubles posting the link.
Ends Feb.11th.

 
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Michael Lavoie
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ScottH wrote:
This review is being used to sell a copy of this game on eBay. I hope it is you Michael, but the seller is in North Carolina.

The item # is: 200709802783

I'm having troubles posting the link.
Ends Feb.11th.

I guess I really need to subscribe to my own stuff. Anyway, it wasn't me selling the game, but I guess I don't mind. It's not like I made any money off the review. Some form of acknowledgement would have been courteous.
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James D
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I'm resurrecting this old thread because I've been thinking of dusting off my old copy of Murfreesboro to play it again.

I disagree with your assessment that the replay ability of this game is low. I've probably played it a dozen times or so with my old wargaming buddy in Fort Wayne and we always enjoyed it probably because the system is so cool.

I picked this up back in the '80s and it was and is my favorite ACW battle game. Stones River/Murfreesboro was always an interesting battle to me because this may be the only large battle in the Civil War where both sides were evenly matched in numbers.
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Paul Brown
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I have Picketts Charge also by Yaquinto. They look similar systems but can anyone, who has both, confirm that?
 
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Rich Levinski
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I have both. I have not played either yet (Murfreesboro hitting table this weekend!).
Looking at the rules and rosters etc., they do not seem to share the same system.
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