Bill Morgal
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The Columbia Game of ‘Shiloh: April 1862’ has been receiving a lot of my playtime and attention of late. I think there are a lot of things both good and bad about the game, and I’ll try to give you my take on them. This is not meant as a tutorial or a detailed rules overview, you can get that at the Columbia games website. I’ll only go into the rules as deep as I need to describe a point or issue.

shake angry

I think that Sigmund Freud would have loved to get the game of Shiloh down on a couch for a psyche session. The game is schizoid. By that, I mean that there are many aspects of the game that are really good and almost as many aspects that are not - some may say that one or two are possibly even flawed. Take the game parts for instance. In many cases the same game part is physically fine or even great, but at the same time the exact same game part is flawed in some manner or could be improved for better game play.


Let’s get down to things and start with the game board.

Image provided by Ethan McKinney from the Columbia Games website


THE BOARD

The Shiloh game board is mounted and is structurally very sound. The map is split up into areas and looks quite nice. Many areas are named based on their historical location. Sites where leaders actually fell are shown on the map. Historical spots such as Shiloh Church and the Hornet’s Nest are marked.

A turn track showing hourly turns starting at 7AM and progressing through 6PM and a space for the night turn taking place between the two day battle is shown on a board edge. There are no markers to place on the track, no marker to show which day it is, and no marker to show which side has initiative. To be fair, the game comes with a couple of extra blocks, but there are no stickers on the sticker sheet to mark them as turn, day, or initiative markers. There is room on the sticker sheet to provide for them, but for some reason Columbia Games elected not to include any. It certainly would have been easy enough to do and I don’t see how it would have cost anything extra.

The terrain on the board consists of woods, streams, slopes, ravines, and some marshes. Oh, and the Tennessee River, too. There are roads, and the streams show where bridges and fords are located. The fords are represented by dark blue circles. One of the ford symbols is 80% obscured by a road for some reason.

The starting areas for the first day of battle are indicated on the map by showing a picture of the unit’s Headquarters Block. Some of these areas are incorrectly marked on the board. Several Union Headquarters start at reduced strength, but they are shown at full strength on the board. Hardee is pictured twice, once where Bragg should be. If you follow the OOB charts that Columbia provided for the USA and CSA, you will not have a problem setting up properly.

Many important aspects of movement and battle are based on the area borders pictured on the game board. There are several ambiguous situations, such as the border between Perry Field and Mulberry Field. Is it a ravine or just a stream? In such cases, the rules state that the worse possible terrain should take precedence. Using this example, rules lawyers will point out that the ravine rules should apply even though many more reasonable people will support applying the stream rule based on the limited area of the border taken up by the ravine.

Purely as a personal nit-pick, I wish the game board was just a tiny bit bigger. Stacking in clear areas is six units. In woods it is four units. Units battle when in the same area and each side is allowed the six or four unit limit so you can have 12 blocks in the same area at times. For the most part, it’s no problem fitting the blocks into the areas, but in some cases it can be rather tight. When a lot of units crowd the spaces, it can be hard to see the borders and tracking movement across the borders can sometimes be problematic (more on that later).


Now let’s talk about the pieces.

Image provided by Andrew C.

THE PIECES

This being a block game, you are provided with lots of blue wooden blocks and gray wooden blocks. These are first rate, nicely finished, and of an ideal size for their purpose.
The game comes with a sticker sheet depicting the army units. You need to apply the stickers to the blocks. Get ready for a lot of sticker sticking!

There are headquarters, artillery, cavalry, and infantry units. The headquarters units are comprised of between 50 and 100 men. The artillery units are made up of between 2 to 4 batteries. The cavalry is battalion based and includes 200 to 600 men. The infantry is brigade based ranging in size between 1500 and 3000 men. Oh, and I almost forgot - there are two USN gunboats.

The artwork done for the unit symbols does a more than adequate job distinguishing the unit types. Strengths are depicted on each block edge. Included for historical reasons and having no direct bearing on the game play is the name of the leader and home state of each unit.

One of the most important pieces of information on each block is the unit’s corps number. Units move and battle when activated by their headquarters unit. There are Army Leader headquarter units and Corps Leader headquarter units. Army Leader HQs can activate any three units in their command range. Corps Leader HQs can activate every unit in their corps in their command range. So you can see the importance of this corps number. Now for another personal nit-pick. The corps number is too small and too hard to see (OK, I’m old and senile –so what?). Would it have been so hard to use a colored stripe along the symbol edge to help designate the units belonging to a corps? Better yet, why not color the infantry or battery symbol based on corps?

The game comes with four really nice dice and two nicely formatted Order of Battle cards. As noted above, the OOBs are very important because they correctly list the starting strengths and camp areas that are incorrectly listed on the game board.



Now let’s talk about the rules.

THE RULES

The rulebook is 8 pages and uses the same format as most other Columbia Games I have played. The actual rules are printed on the left two-thirds of the page and background and optional information is printed on the right third.

They are short and concise. Perhaps too short and too concise. There are areas that could be covered in more detail. For the most part, rule questions can be solved with a little searching or through mutual agreement.

Visual examples would have been a nice thing to include for movement and battles. There are a few text examples.

There are no pictures showing the actual terrain that appears on the map to be found in the rules although the rules do describe and explain the terrain types.

Unlike many other war games, there is no separate player aid showing terrain affects on stacking, movement, and battle. On the last page of the rules there is a turn summary and a terrain effects chart (a chart that again does not actually show what any of the terrain looks like). Nitpicks since it can all be figured out, but it would not have hurt to go the extra step.


Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts and discuss the game play.

Image provided by Andrew C.

GAME PLAY

Shiloh is an easy game to learn how to play. Particularly so if you are not new to block war gaming. Shiloh however is not an easy game to play. I do not mean that necessarily as a negative. Let me explain.

The key mechanics in Shiloh involve moving your units into battle while keeping cohesion within the unit’s corps.

In order to move a unit into battle, the unit’s HQs must be activated or a Leader HQs needs to be activated. Each turn a HQs is used to activate units, it loses a strength point. Units can move without being activated, but they may not battle and they may suffer a loss of a strength point due to stragglers. A unit must be in command range of a HQs to be eligible to be activated. For the most part, the CSA HQs have a 2 area range while the USA HQs have a 1 area range. When moving units, there are only so many units that are allowed to cross area borders based on the terrain and presence of enemy units.

It requires careful thought when planning your moves to keep your units within range of their HQs and massed in ways to make the optimum use of attacking across the area borders. If you don’t, you will find yourself wasting time trying to get your units into the correct positions for their assaults. It is also important not to clog the areas behind the battle areas allowing room for units to retreat.

For me anyway, it was a little difficult and tricky keeping track of the number of units that crossed borders during movement. It was also tricky seeing the blasted corps numbers in order to keep the units grouped well enough and in command range.

So I found Shiloh hard to play in regards to planning strategy and executing successful assaults or withdrawals (which is a good thing) and like-wise hard to play in regards to some physical mechanics regarding keeping track of corps, border movements, and fitting units in an area (which is not a good thing).

The mechanic regarding activating HQs units is a big plus in simulating the battle of Shiloh. At the onset, the USA HQs units start at reduced strength, some with zero strength. This really hampers the US player at the beginning and does a good job of simulating the surprise achieved by the CSA.

Battles are easy to resolve and fun, but not that historically accurate. Like other Columbia block games, they employ a strength reduction system. Each strength point allows one roll of a dice. The unit’s firepower number determines if a hit is scored. Attacks are resolved with the defensive player rolling and applying hits followed by the attacking player. This is further broken down by the firepower letter of each unit. Units with ‘A’s are first, followed by ‘B’s, followed by ‘C’s.

For the most part, artillery units are A’s, cavalry units are B’s, and infantry are C’s. HQs units count for stacking purposes and are allowed to attack and defend. They are B’s. This leads to some rather historically bizarre tactics. Sometimes there are attacks with just massed artillery units (granted they have -1 firepower for the first round, but that often is not enough to deter this). I don’t really think artillery batteries participated by charging into an enemy held area without infantry support. Sometimes HQs units are included in attacks. For the most part, HQs units did not actually fight in the Civil War. Certainly a HQs unit consisting of 200 odd men or so firing with a B3 firepower against an infantry unit of 1500 men with a firepower of C1 should not stand a chance of winning – but here if that happens, the C1 infantry unit may never get a chance to even fire. More nitpicking, but I would have liked it better if the batteries were handled differently in some way – maybe modifying infantry firepower or something. The idea of them attacking all by their lonesome just gets to me. I would also have found it much more interesting if the firepower letter and number was based on how good the unit actually was historically and not solely on unit type and size. I do like how the cavalry move and fire before the infantry making them great for screening and covering withdrawals.

Luck plays a big part in Shiloh. If either side has a spell of bad luck at the beginning of the game, the outcome may be a forgone conclusion. If the CSA fail to roll hits and do serious damage in the first turn and then fail to get initiative in the second turn, they are going to have a hard time of it as the game goes on. If the USA can’t put a dent in the CSA in the first few turns because of bad dice rolls, they will be hard pressed to save many of there units – especially if the CSA has a hot hand with the dice.

It can also get almost impossible for the CSA to make any headway after some initial successes because of the terrain and border mechanics in the game. If the USA can form a consolidated line along the Tilghman Branch, Hornet’s Nest , Peach Orchard, and Cloud Field, the CSA will face an almost impossible task of breaking through to Pittsburgh Landing and Johnson will not stand a chance to fulfill his promise of watering their horses in the Tennessee by nightfall.



Now let’s talk about the game overall.

thumbsup CONCLUSIONS thumbsdown

From many of my above criticisms, you probably think I don’t care much for Shiloh. I do. I enjoyed playing it both face-to-face and solitaire. I just think it could have been so much better than it is.

I made some player aids which help (me anyway) make the game play more smoothly. I also figured out ways around two of my biggest gripes. I use dice to track the number of units that move across an area border. And if you paint the edges of the cubes each a different color based on the corps, it becomes simple to keep track of the units that belong to the corp. "But that defeats the fog of war created by the blocks!" Historically, Civil War armies knew who it was they were fighting based on the battle flags that were being flown. Painting the edges may allow the opponent to know that that is Hardee approaching, but they still won’t know the strength or disposition of the block. Again, the best thing would have been for Columbia to just color code the infantry symbols by corps, but alas, that’s not to be.

The game just begs for some ‘house rules’ to make things a bit more realistic if that’s what you like. Requiring an infantry unit for every attacking artillery unit for instance. Or having leaders not count for stacking and not being allowed to roll for attacks or defense. I think the Firepower ratings need tinkering a bit but I don’t know where to begin there so I’ve left that alone as far as house rules go.

Shiloh is a fun and demanding game strategically. It has it’s problems but they’re not severe enough to skip over giving it a try. Maybe a bit dicey on the luck side, and maybe tactics wise it may prove predictable coming down to a center thrust by the CSA, but those things will only be answered by repeated plays.

I would love to see the system adapted for an Antietam game. The HQs strength points and replenishment mechanic can be tailored easily to simulate McClellan’s ‘slows’. Maybe I’ll buy some blocks, do some research, and give it a go...
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Gordon Stewart
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Balanced, concise, thoughtful reviews are the best...
Well done! Very informative!
Will pack some small dice to mark border crossings in my game,
and mark the corps with color-coded dots on their stickers.
++++EDIT TO SHOW DICE:
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Colin Hunter
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Thanks for the review.
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C Sandifer
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It can also get almost impossible for the CSA to make any headway after some initial successes because of the terrain and border mechanics in the game. If the USA can form a consolidated line along the Tilghman Branch, Hornet’s Nest , Peach Orchard, and Cloud Field, the CSA will face an almost impossible task of breaking through to Pittsburgh Landing and Johnson will not stand a chance to fulfill his promise of watering their horses in the Tennessee by nightfall.

In my next game, to slow down the US consolidation, I'd like to try the variant in the rules where movement away from the front line is done at a reduced border limit.

Also, to give the CSA a better chance at breaking the USA line (with its defense-biased stacking limits), I wonder whether Shiloh couldn't have benefited from a modified combat system. In Prussia's Defiant Stand, for example, defenders only fire before the attackers in the first battle round; all other battle rounds are simultaneous by class (all As, then all Bs, then all Cs). A similar system might be used here.

Or if you really want to shake things up, you could have simultaneous firing in all battle rounds, including the first round.
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Bill Morgal
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wkover wrote:
In my next game, to slow down the US consolidation, I'd like to try the variant in the rules where movement away from the front line is done at a reduced border limit.

Very good point! I did not use that optional rule in my plays.

wkover wrote:
Also, to give the CSA a better chance at breaking the USA line (with its defense-biased stacking limits), I wonder whether Shiloh couldn't have benefited from a modified combat system. In Prussia's Defiant Stand, for example, defenders only fire before the attackers in the first battle round; all other battle rounds are simultaneous by class (all As, then all Bs, then all Cs). A similar system might be used here.

Great suggestion! I think I'll try it.
 
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Myrdin T Sasnak wrote:
wkover wrote:
In Prussia's Defiant Stand, for example, defenders only fire before the attackers in the first battle round; all other battle rounds are simultaneous by class (all As, then all Bs, then all Cs). A similar system might be used here.

Great suggestion! I think I'll try it.


Note that the retreat procedure should be modified if you try the simultaneous combat procedure. You might try: (step 1) attacker retreat, (step 2) defender retreat, then (step 3) simultaneous fire.

For example, in a particular battle, assume that the following units remain at the start of round 2 (the first simultaneous battle round):

Attacker has 3 As, 2 Bs, and 3 Cs.
Defender has 2 As, 1 B, and 2 Cs.

A class: Attacker retreats one A unit, defender does not retreat either of the two A units. All remaining A units fire simultaneously.

B class: Attacker retreats both B units. Defender retreats his/her only B unit. No fire, since no B units remain.

C Class: Attacker does not retreat any C units. Defender retreats one C unit. All remaining C units then fire simultaneously.

I suppose the pursuit round (4th battle round) would be conducted normally, with defenders firing first by class, followed by the forced retreat of the attackers.

[The PDS retreat procedure for simultaneous combat can't be implemented as-is in Shiloh because units that "retreat" in PDS don't physically relocate until the battle is over. And if "retreating" units in PDS end up on the winning side, they don't end up retreating at all - they just rejoin their victorious comrades. Also, retreating units in PDS are eligible for hits as they leave. That isn't the case in my example above.]
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Michael Gustavsson
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Excellent review, bravo!

During my first game I just sat there staring at the board and felt some kind of disappointed. It was too "stripped" to my taste I was thinking. For some reasons I couldn't get the game out of my head, so I gave it another go the day after. This time it was totally different, I begun to understand the depth in the game and it's getting better during every session since. As for now, Shiloh is the most played game in my house and have become a highly appreciated favourite.

By the way, try the battleboard uploaded by Bill. It is great!
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Jan van der Laan
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mitte_70 wrote:
Excellent review, bravo!

During my first game I just sat there staring at the board and felt some kind of disappointed. It was too "stripped" to my taste I was thinking. For some reasons I couldn't get the game out of my head, so I gave it another go the day after. This time it was totally different, I begun to understand the depth in the game and it's getting better during every session since. As for now, Shiloh is the most played game in my house and have become a highly appreciated favourite.

By the way, try the battleboard uploaded by Bill. It is great!


I totally second this. The game needs some time to 'fall into place' and the abovementioned battleboard works perfectly.

Geat review btw!

Edit: typo.
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john f stup
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"quote" In Prussia's Defiant Stand, in the simultaneous battle rounds (rounds 2 and 3) - by initiative class - the attacker has the option to retreat any/all units, then the defender has the option to retreat any/all units, then the simultaneous fire is conducted. "end of quote"

i think that is wrong. the retreating unit/units have to receive the fire before they retreat. only in the 1st round can the defending leaders retreat without taking fire then the defending inf. take fire from the leaders before they can retreat, but the way we understand the PDS rules for rounds after the 1st, units have to take fire before they retreat. in the rules on page 8(updated version) and page 9(1st version) "in either case, the retreating units do not fire but are subject to hits" referring to 2cd, 3rd and other rounds after the 1st. please correct me if i am wrong.
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nhojput wrote:
"quote" In Prussia's Defiant Stand, in the simultaneous battle rounds (rounds 2 and 3) - by initiative class - the attacker has the option to retreat any/all units, then the defender has the option to retreat any/all units, then the simultaneous fire is conducted. "end of quote"

i think that is wrong. the retreating unit/units have to receive the fire before they retreat. only in the 1st round can the defending leaders retreat without taking fire then the defending inf.


Ugh. Yep - my mistake. It's been too long since I've played PDS. I'll make corrections in the above example to clarify that I'm using a modified version of the PDS retreat procedure rather than the actual procedure. Sorry!
 
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Bill Vargas
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Myrdin T Sasnak wrote:
The Shiloh game board is mounted and is structurally very sound.


As I understand it, only people who preordered the game directly from Columbia Games received mounted boards. Everyone else received a deluxe or reinforced map. Did you get the game directly from Columbia?
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Bill Morgal
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I used my friend's copy. Yes he ordered it directly from Columbia. I plan on getting my own copy soon so I can mod the tiles. Are the copies now being sold with hard paper boards?
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Bill Vargas
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From what I remember from the Columbia website at the time, only people who preordered the game directly from Columbia would get the mounted board. It was promoted as an incentive to get direct preorders to Columbia. I believe I saw that all future games will have this incentive. Everyone else, from other merchants to people who purchased directly from Columbia after the preorder period, would get a regular Columbia style map.

Perhaps if you contact Columbia directly they may tell you otherwise.
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Robert Patton
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I agree with all your "nitpiks" ...

I too am a fan of Columbia Games, and I hate to say it, but they know it too, ... Their first releases seems to have what can be brushed off as minor flaws, but truly hamper game game ... otherwise, we the buyers would not keep mentioning these "minor errors" ...

Anyway ... that's my 2 cents comment ...

A clear, concise, fair review ... Thanks.

Bottom line ... I pre-ordered ... so I guess I am saying ... regardless of the "minor errors" ... I bought a copy ... guess that says it all.
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An Excellent review on a game that could have been better.
 
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Just last week I finally gave up on Shiloh and traded it away. It never did click with me. In my opinion, the worst Columbia games are Shiloh, Shenandoah (1st edition, haven't tried 2nd edition yet), and Texas Glory. I haven't played Athens & Sparta and Gettysburg, but I hear that they're also near the bottom of the list.

Honestly, Julius Caesar is the last 'original' Columbia game that I truly enjoyed.* I'm hoping that the upcoming Victory in Europe is at least as enjoyable as JC.


*I'm not counting the recently revised editions of Bobby Lee, Napoleon, and Crusader Rex. They're good, but have problems of their own. That's a topic for a separate post.
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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I hate to say it but I agree with the above as far as Columbia as of late. I wrote this around the time of the Napoleon Kickstarter.

"The Napoleon 4th edition Kickstarter says this under "Risks and Challenges"

"Columbia Games has produced games for more than 40 years. We have outlasted many "giants" of the business such as Avalon-Hill, Simulations Publications (SPI), World Wide Wargamers (3W), and Game Designer's Workshop (GDW). We have consistently produced quality games and given great customer service. You may be assured that we will do the same with this new edition of Napoléon."

Not that any of the above is inherently false, but I have noticed some unwelcome trends with Columbia as of late: stagnation of ideas and insularity in terms of designers. In light of that, the above sounds like hubris when they recall the end of Avalon Hill, 3W, GDW, and SPI, each of which is given the insulting quotations treatment. Napoleon will get made and be a big hit but will Columbia thrive after the high point of the 2000s? I have some worries after seeing what they plan to bring us in the future."

I have good hopes for Victory in Europe but still I worry...
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gittes wrote:
I hate to say it but I agree with the above


So, you've changed your mind about Shiloh: April 1862 then? Only a few days ago I read your very informative and on the whole quite positive review of that game. Or does the agreement not include the OP's views on Shiloh: April 1862 and Gettysburg: Badges of Courage?
 
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Sorry I meant "as far as Columbia as of late" is where I agree. I still like Shiloh.
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Regarding crossing borders, just move unit(s) onto (or maybe just over) the border they will be crossing. Leave them there until all movement is complete. Easy to track; no extra anything required. Also easily works with hexsides and roads depending on the map/game.

 
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