Chris Montgomery
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Joliet
Illinois
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A Fearful Slaughter: Experienced RSS Players Only, Please

A Review by Chris Montgomery

NOTE: The image links used throughout this review are either from external links (such as Wikipedia) or to images on BGG. These images remain the respective copyrights of their authors and/or owners. I can take no credit for the incredible photography of my fellow Geeks. Full sizes of images can be viewed by clicking on the image, but this may take you out of the BGG domain. If you visit any BGG images, please thumb them, and maybe drop a modest GG tip. This review is much more aesthetically pleasing thanks to all the hard-working Geeks out there.



Introduction and Series Background

A Fearful Slaughter: The Battle of Shiloh, First Great Battle in the West, April, 1862 is the third game in the Civil War Brigade Series, Regimental Sub-Series published by Multi-Man Publishing Company / The Gamers (MMP) and designed by David Powell. This installment of the series covers various scenarios dealing with the Battle of Shiloh.

The original Civil War Brigade Series (CWBS) dates back to the late 1980s and was designed through a collaborative effort between Dean Essig and David Powell - a collaboration that would result in possibly the most iconic battle-level Civil War board game to ever be designed. The series simulates various Civil War battlefields in which counters represent brigades (2-5 regiments), divisional leaders and higher command elements are represented with their own counters on the game map, and turns are half an hour. The CWBS has an impressive fifteen (15) titles covering battles from First Manassas (Three Battles of Manassas) to Cold Harbor (Strike Them a Blow) and nearly everything in between. The Civil War afficionado will find nearly every battle worth fighting within the reverent tomes of the CWBS. The last installment of the series was published in 2006, and according to MMP there are no plans to release any further games in the CWBS.

In 1998, MMP (under The Gamers moniker) published the first Regimental Sub-Series (RSS) game, This Hallowed Ground. In this new series, Essig and Powell took their now-iconic CWBS to a new level, incorporating regiments as the basic counter, with brigade commanders and higher represented by separate counters on the map. The design was termed a “sub-series” because it used most of the CWBS rules but added about eight pages of additional modifications to make the system work with regimental-level counters. This Hallowed Ground was the first game in the RSS and attempted to tackle the Moby Dick of all Civil War battles: Gettysburg, and is still held up today as one of the most detailed games dealing with that battle ever developed.

Two years later, in 2000, This Terrible Sound was released, covering the battle of Chickamauga. A Fearful Slaughter was the third game in the RSS published in 2003-2004, and was followed by only one additional RSS game, South Mountain, covering the Battle of South Mountain.

Recently, MMP, Essig and Powell have again teamed up to publish the next evolution in this series, called the Line of Battle (LOB) series, the first game of which is None But Heroes covering the Battle of Antietam. None But Heroes is scheduled to be published some time this year and streamlines the RSS rules in various ways - but LOB is not the subject of this review. Suffice to say that many fans of the RSS games have begun using the prototype LOB rules to play their RSS modules!

Background of the Battle

Two months prior to the battle, in February of 1862, Grant’s Army of West Tennessee (soon to be known as just The Army of the Tennessee) had successfully captured the twin forts of Henry and Donelson. These forts had protected the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and with the forts captured, the Union now had control of the rivers to supply its army for the invasion of the Deep South.

This Wikipedia map shows the overall campaign from 1861 to the battle in April of 1862:



The Battle of Shiloh took place over the course of two days, April 6-7, 1862 and was the first major engagement in the Western Theater. The first day of the battle was a surprise attack by the Confederate Army commanded by A.S. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. Johnston intended to hit Ulysses S. Grant’s forces camped along the Tennessee River at Pittsburgh Landing and defeat them before Don Carlos Buell could arrive to reinforce the Union position. The first day, the Confederates had much success, catching many Union regiments still in camp and not even mustered for battle. Eventually, the Union lines formed up, but by the end of the day, Johnston’s boys had thrown back the Union lines nearly to the banks of the Tennessee River.



The fighting in around Pittsburg Landing was fierce and plagued by dense thickets and wooded areas punctuated by farm clearings and poorly maintained dirt roads. The rolling hills of the region provided few nice, flat, surfaces for fighting a field engagement, and poor sight lines, both for artillery and musket fire. This led to confusion on both sides of the battle as units became lost, confused, fell out of the battle line, or didn’t properly understand the location of their objectives and orders.

This print demonstrates the thick wooded areas and fierce fighting:



But after initial success in the morning, by the late afternoon, a fierce engagement along a sunken road developed that later became known as “the Hornet’s Nest”. The two Union divisions in the Hornet’s Nest stopped the Confederate advance long enough to allow Grant enough time to reestablish his lines and get most of his regiments under the cover of artillery. The Union lines at the Sunken Road held their position so long, they became a salient along the main battle line. Forcing back an estimated 8-14 charges, the regiments in the Hornet’s Nest saw some of the most vicious fighting of the war. Prentiss and Wallace were the divisional commanders at the Hornet’s Nest, and they held the position for seven hours, at the cost of Wallace’s life. By the late afternoon, Prentiss, surrounded on three sides and being blasted by close-range Confederate artillery fire, surrendered his command.

The Confederate general in command, A.S. Johnston, practiced a “by the book” style that focused his planning around the Napoleonic strategy of turning movements and maneuver rather than raw force. He had been wounded around 2:30 PM, and later died. Stepping into his shoes was P.G.T. Beauregard and by the time Beauregard took command, it was nearly 6:00 PM and the Union lines had reformed.

Beauregard had the choice of pressing the attack into nightfall within range of massed Union artillery, or waiting until the morning. Beauregard thought the Union army had been sufficiently licked and sent a telegram to Richmond announcing a complete victory. He decided to finish off Grant the next morning.



During the night, Grant was reinforced by some of Buell’s forces and showing what would become a signature trademark of Grant in future battles in the East, he was offensive minded. The next morning, the Union ranks took the offensive. Beauregard at the time had no idea he was outnumbered, and had intended to resume the attack in the morning at his leisure. Instead, he was outnumbered nearly two-to-one (after losses the previous day) and the Union began their attack at dawn. After a few hours of fighting Beauregard realized the precarious situation of his army - low on ammunition, low on food, and outnumbered by 2-to-1 against a well-supplied enemy, he ordered a general retreat, having lost another 2,000 men in just a few hours.

The statistics of the battle are as follows:

Union Army of the Tennessee
Initial strength: 48,894, plus another 17,000 reinforcements from Buell
13,047 total losses
1,754 killed
8,408 wounded
2,885 captured/missing

Confederate Army of Mississippi
Initial strength: 44,699
10,699 total losses
1,728 killed
8,012 wounded
959 captured/missing

Here is a picture of the Shiloh Church (a rebuilt version - the original did not survive the battle):



From the back of the box:

Quote:
After the lightning campaign taking control of the ends of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in western Tennessee (by the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson), the Union Army of The Tennessee regrouped on the banks of the Tennessee River at the gates of Mississippi and Alabama.

Feeling secure in their rapid victory, the Union Army relaxed its state of readiness.

Reeling from the duel [sic] losses of the river Forts, Confederate leaders concentrated available forces and aimed at crushing the leading Union forces at Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh) Tennessee.

There, A.S. Johnston’s Confederates launched a massive surprise attack on the encamped Union army under U.S. Grant and the largest battle yet in the New World began.




NOTE: Much of the information relating to the battle, as well as linked images, was taken from Wikipedia. My apologies for not using a more reliable resource, but I didn’t want to write a term paper on the battle, just give an overview. The wikipedia article can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Shiloh

Components

The Counters



There are five (!) countersheets of half-inch counters with 280 counters per sheet. However, two of the countersheets are casualty markers, which will be discussed later, in the mechanics.

The counters are excellently done with clear colors differentiating the two sides of the battle as well as icons and graphics that pique the imagination. They are “MMP Standard” for this series - very functional and uniform as compared to other counters in the series.

The counters representing regiments have small black dots representing unit facing and meant to illustrate the silhouettes of the troops in line formation as seen from the top.

The counters are full color, with a CSA or USA flag at the top of each one and a small colored icon in the background showing the state from which the regiment hails. Unit information in the RSS is minimal - a unit designation with a code representing that unit’s position within the order of battle. A letter and number combination in the lower left of each regiment shows its armament (muskets, rifles, etc.) and its initial strength. A letter in the lower right shows a unit’s morale rating - one of the most important factors in the game, once the shooting starts.

The Box



The box is MMP standard - less rigid than the now-standard GMT gameboxes, but serviceable and able to withstand normal use. I would caution against stacking this game flat with games on top of it and instead use “bookshelf” storage, on it’s end or side. As with many wargames, the box is not large enough to accommodate counter trays, and will be a pretty tight fit if you use plastic bags. I like trays, and so for my more popular games, I just keep the trays next to the game, on the shelf.

The Rules

The rules are printed black and white on heavy-bond paper and stapled at the center. The game comes with one of the most-recent iterations of the rules, version 3.0 (32 pp.), and while there have been some complaints as to the wordiness and clarity of the rules, they are serviceable and understandable. I like to think that the rules are written in that late-eighties fashion that plagued so many wargames, but the answers to most questions are answered. There are enough gaps that you and your opponents will have to either come to some understanding to resolve the issue and/or seek out answers at Consimworld. This game is still supported by Essig and Powell, and they are easier to reach at Consimworld than on BGG.

The rules that come with the game are the most recent rules for the CWBS (v. 3.0), along with a separate pamphlet styled “Regimental Sub-Series Rules, v. 2.0” that augments the CWBS rules (basically dealing with command and how to mark unit casualties). There is another set of rules styled “Civil War Regimental Series, Series Rules v. 3.0” available for download at here which appears to be an attempt to update all the errata, etc. and combine the CWBS v. 3.0 and the RSS v. 2.0.

At any rate, and as you can surmise, the rules are mentioned in my comments to the game.

The Charts



The Charts are very nice and functional, and unlike many wargame chart booklets, you actually use all the charts frequently enough that you will become intimately familiar with them after just a couple of turns. The charts are printed on cardstock with a copy for each player - so no need to keep passing it back and forth during a game. Wonderful.

The Game Map



Two maps come with the game, but both are needed for all the scenarios (one of the maps has the turn track, date, etc., on it, while the other is usually needed for the scenarios). The map is simply beautiful to look at, with forests, thickets, fields, fences, names of significant places, named roads, and contour-lines. This is standard for all the games of the series (both CWBS and RSS). All of the small details make for a great visual treat, but in A Fearful Slaughter, all the nuances of the map can create nightmares for movement. More on this in the Comments section, below.

Other Components

The game also comes with several other items, which I list and give quick impressions of, here:

Two copies of the Reinforcement Chart on cardstock (CSA one side, USA the other). Nice, quick reference, and a copy for each player. This is not needed for every scenario.

Two copies of the CWB RSS Charts and Tables, version 2.1 (this is the most-recent iteration of the RSS charts and tables, but it does differ in significant ways from similar tables used in the CWBS). Again, functional, useful, and quick to learn and grasp. But I do have some complaints. More on this in Comments, below (under the same section discussing the rules).

Two colored cardstock Casualty and Artillery Ammunition Tracks (one blue for the USA, one Gray, for the CSA). Functional, appropriate.

A scenario booklet - not titled as such - which has all the special rules applying to this particular installment of the RSS including special terrain, special ZOC rules, surrender rules, random events, and then special rules related to each side in the battle (a section on Union, and a section on Confederate). All in all, about 10 pages of rules, most of which are not complicated or difficult to remember. The booklet also includes seven pages of design notes explaining the reasons for many of the rules and advice on playing the game. Twenty pages of the rules are the scenarios themselves. There are eleven scenarios, ranging from a very small introductory battle to get your feet wet (just a couple of regiments each) all the way up to the full battle over the course of two days. The scenario booklet is always my favorite part of the CWBS and the RSS games because it is evident how much detail and research the designers have conducted over their decades of game designing. The love of Civil War-era military history is self-evident from reading the scenario booklet.

A Regimental Loss Charts Booklet. This details EACH regiment in the game, with strength boxes so that players can play using an optional rule (discussed in Mechanics, below).

A Loss Charts Booklet. This details each brigade in the game by division with boxes for stragglers by brigade. This is used when played using the standard rules (discussed in Mechanics, below).

Finally, there is a Terrain Effects and Movement Chart which lists each terrain feature in chart form and how each feature affects movement and line of sight in the game.

Mechanics

The CWBS cannot be effectively divorced from the RSS, and so this section endeavors to discuss both of them.

If you have ever played a CWBS game, RSS is just a short jump and hop and then you’re playing in the “big kids” pool. The mechanics of the RSS are only slightly modified from the CWBS. What the RSS does add is lots more counters and record-keeping, though the designers have tried to allow players to minimize it. What you pay for in additional work, you reap in additional detail - the narrative is richer, the results fell more realistic.

If you have never played a CWBS game, I encourage you to check out that series first, and decide if you are interested in the RSS after playing a couple games. The CWBS has much lower counter density, plays faster, and results in a great story while giving you solid experience that easily translates to the RSS. Conversely, if you don’t enjoy the CWBS, the odds are slim that you will enjoy RSS.

The Command and Order System

The central innovative mechanic to the CWBS (and RSS) is the written order system. At the beginning of every turn, your general may write orders to his subordinate units (corps commanders, but in some cases, divisional commanders, too). These orders are written instructions to your units to perform certain tasks such as: “Attack toward Fraley Field.” Or something similar. Each general has a certain number of points per turn with which to issue orders, and to issue an order costs some of those points. The order is then delivered to your subordinates over a period of time, depending on how far away the subordinate is from the Army HQ.

Once received by a subordinate (some X number of turns after being written and paid for with Order Points), the player makes a roll on the Order Acceptance Table. Depending on the outcome of the roll, the order might be accepted upon receipt, in which case your subordinate immediately begins to obey your orders. Or the order can be Distorted, which simply means that the subordinate will not be following your order at all - maybe the messenger was killed, maybe the subordinate thought your orders were foolhardy and “never received them” or maybe the dispatch was dropped, the messenger got lost or captured, or some other reason. The reasons are left to your imagination, but the in-game effect is that your order disappears and all those precious order points you spent have been flushed down the drain of the C3i of a Civil War battlefield.

Neither Acceptance nor Distortion, however, is a very likely result for your orders. The most common result for your orders will be Delayed (with various levels of delay), in which case - for some unknown reason - your subordinate has received your orders but isn’t acting on them. Maybe he is deliberating with his subordinate staff, or maybe he is uncertain as to how to time the execution of your order. Perhaps his division commanders are slow to form up the lines or they can’t locate the colonel of one of the subordinate brigades. Again, the reason is below the game system and you can use your imagination to determine why your order is delayed. In any case, once an order is in Delayed status, each subsequent turn the player rolls a die to see if the order is Accepted. There are different levels of delay, but a player will usually need to roll a 5 or higher in order to have his order accepted (and in some cases a 6 only). Once you roll the number for the order, it becomes Accepted and the subordinate commander starts executing the order immediately.

This can be an agonizing experience as a player. In a CWBS game of Three Battles of Manassas, I had one brigadier general take five hours (!), that's ten game turns, to begin to implement my orders, and he was far, far, behind the brigade he was supposed to support. In all truth, I didn’t much feel like that was very realistic and I attempted to reach the designer to tell him so (and no, I am not particularly well-read on issues of Civil War command and control). Mr. Powell was very friendly and informed me of several examples where leaders - sometimes for no known reason at all - took hours and hours before they would commence obeying an order.

The chances of an order being accepted from the get-go depend on several factors, including the manner it was delivered: In-Person (by the commanding general), Aide-Written (and aide delivering a written order from the general), or Aide-Oral (a game of “telephone” where the general tells the aide to tell the subordinate . . . ). Obviously, in-person has a much better chance of being obeyed while aide-written is probably the most common, and aide-oral is only preferable where lots of orders have to be issued at once (oral orders take less time to issue and are therefore cheaper, but have a corresponding higher likelihood of being Delayed or Distorted).

The order also depends on the leadership rating of the general issuing it, and the leadership rating of the general receiving it. Obviously, the better the combined ratings, the better chance that the order will be obeyed.

Once an order has been Accepted, your subordinates will faithfully carry it out.

Movement

Movement is handled similarly to other hex-and-counter games with a hex grid superimposed over the game map. Terrain runs the gamut from thickets and fences to trails and roads, streams, rivers, fields, rolling hills, steep slopes, and the list goes on. Any wargamer will find the movement rules very familiar to other games of the hex-and-counter variety.

Combat

Combat has quite a few steps, but all of them serve a purpose, and the game “feels” like it creates realistic results. You won’t completely destroy a regiment of troops from a single round of firing, and generally, regiments don’t rout right away. These massed-bodies of men and weapons were more difficult to budge than could be attained in fifteen minutes of rifle fire. Not that it won’t happen, of course, but it is rare.

For combat, units tally up their strength points, which are then modified by range and the type of weapon the regiment carries (rifles, muskets, shotguns, etc.). This results in a final number called fire points (FPs). The player then rolls dice on a chart indexing the dice result and the number of FPs to get a casualty result. That result is marked off the player’s regiment. Under the standard rules, casualties are marked by placing a counter under the regiment to keep track of losses. Under the optional rules (more realistic, but more fiddly), casualties are tracked on off-board sheets by checking off boxes. In both cases, the strength remaining in a regiment is secret from one's opponent.

After rolling casualties, the player who was just targeted rolls to see if he loses any stragglers. Stragglers are men who for whatever reason, fall out of the battle line. Some are scared, some might have twisted an ankle, become overheated or exhausted, and some just plain - believe it or not - got lost in the chaos. In any case, the lower your morale and the more casualties you take from firing, the higher your stragglers become. Stragglers are removed just like strength points if you are using counters to keep track, and they are marked on a brigade sheet, as well. Later, if stragglers are recovered, regiments can gain strength points back. If you are playing with the optional off-board sheets, then each regiment's stragglers are tracked separately as to each regiment. When using counters, stragglers from one regiment are taken from a generic pool of stragglers and added back in. When using the off-map sheets, a regiment can only recover its own actual stragglers. The optional rule feels more realistic, but it is a matter of player choice.

Once stragglers are marked off, the targeted player rolls for morale. The morale table, predictably, scales worse morale effects for lower morale units, but there are many, many modifiers available. The one modifier I like best is the modifier for wrecked regiments and wrecked brigades. Regiments can become “wrecked” once they have lost too many casualties - and this represents that particular unit’s tolerance for losses. At that point, their odds of routing away become much more likely. A wrecked regiment of a wrecked brigade has a further increased likelihood of deteriorating morale. Morale results run the gambit from “No Effect” which is a very likely result early on, to “Shaken,” “Disorganized,” and “Routed.”

Another morale result - and my favorite - is “Blood Lust”. A unit in Blood Lust will never rout until the Blood Lust marker is removed. This represents a sort of collective anger and determination found in some of the more fierce engagements of the war. However, once the unit is no longer adjacent to the enemy, the unit loses it’s Blood Lust status. Similarly, later morale results can cause the Blood Lust marker to be removed, but in that case, the rolled morale effect does not occur, and instead the unit returns to normal morale status.

Morale rolls might also make the unit fall back one or two hexes - especially where the regiment finds itself being cut up without artillery nearby. A unit stacked with artillery can ignore - to some extent - the requirement of backing up after a poor morale roll.

And that’s it for firing. Rinse and repeat.

Close Combat is similar, but is designed for the units to take morale checks before they even reach the enemy. This models the reluctance of many regiments to ever reach the enemy’s line: either the enemy loses their nerve and retreats, or the attacker loses his nerve and stops charging and begins firing halfway through the charge.

Other Mechanics

Turns are in fifteen-minute increments for RSS (half-hour increments for CWBS) - which in a game of this scope can take a ridiculous amount of time to play. The full battle scenario is 125 turns! With scores of regiments represented in the game, and only, say, 1 minute per regiment per turn, you’re still talking hours upon hours of playing time. Still, the game is very rewarding for those with enough love for Civil War battles to stick it out. Every game I have ever played tells a wonderful story. Once you get the mechanics down (like most wargames) the game flows really well.

There are provisions for gunboats along the Tennessee River shelling the battleground, random events occurring to both sides, and a host of cool optional variants to play around with.

Commentary, Criticism, and Praise

Here I set forth my opinions, gripes, praise, and other sundry editorial comments in no particular order.

A Bit of Criticism About the Rules

As should be expected in a game series with this much history - over twenty years! - the rules have gone through several iterations. The rules that come with the game, in the game box, are useable for play and I wouldn’t worry too much about having everything updated. You will find it can be quite a nightmare trying to find it all.

I believe the biggest change to the rules is that in the CWBS, Force (the value assigned to how forcefully an order is given) has been removed from the system altogether and a new Order and Acceptance Chart is used. I might be wrong about this, but I use the most recent Command / Order / Acceptance / Initiative Tables from the CWBS v. 3.2, downloadable at MMPs website here. This contains the most-recent set of charts for CWBS and the most-recent ruleset, all in a single PDF file.

But that does not cover all the issues with RSS . . . no, no, no. RSS is a separate pamphlet that makes additions, alterations, and deletions to the CWBS rules. An attempt has been made to conflate the RSS with the CWBS so that there is one official rule set for the RSS - but with Line of Battle coming out (hopefully) this year, that new ruleset will be the one to use for all RSS games and will presumably resolve the problem of different versions of the rules.

Aside from all that, I am going to review the rules that come with the game - they are perfectly playable as is, with no modifications - but I would advise the following:

(1.) Either use the rules that come in the game box and the charts that come in the game box, or

(2.) Use the updated CWBS rules (v. 3.2) along with RSS Rules (v. 2.0) and the charts that come with the game, replacing the following individual tables with the tables included in the CWBS v. 3.2: Initiative Table, Command Point Chart, Order Costs Chart and Acceptance Table. All other tables can remain as shown in the RSS Charts.

I prefer using the second option, but you will need to come to some type of understanding prior to play.

For the record, I don’t know what the “official” rules are supposed to be, and that is my largest complaint.

Line of Sight

The line of sight rules are anachronistic and needlessly complex. While I understand what the designers were getting at, it is a complaint that is not singular to me, and one that is supposed to be addressed in the “new” series game, Line of Battle. Currently, the rules have a six-step algorithm, and the steps are not concisely worded, nor are the steps intuitive - especially steps 5 and 6, to wit:

Quote:
5. Either a lower Elevation is closer or the same distance from A to B, than past A or higher Elevations exist past A before reaching lower Elevations. T: Next step. F: LOS is blocked.

6. Terrain exists between A and B that has an elevation higher than B’s but less than A’s, is closer to B than A, and is separated from A by elevations lower than itself. T: LOS is blocked. F: LOS is not blocked.


What step 5 actually says is that if the unit on the higher elevation has more hexes of equal height behind it than it does between it and the other unit, there is a line of sight. This can be problematic because the line is drawn from the center of one unit through and behind the higher unit - if your “thread” barely crosses a hex, does that count? What if the thread falls exactly on a hex spine? The rules are silent. I play it that it DOES count and hex spines are resolved in favor of finding LOS. I don’t see how non-intervening terrain matters at all, but it can in this series. So there you have it.

All that being said, the algorithm is helpful because it comes with diagrams to help with interpretation. And once you get used to it, it’s not that bad, but it can really slow the game down.

I’ll talk a bit more about LOS in the criticism of the Map, below, but note that the criticism here applies to all games in the series. The criticism of the map applies only to A Fearful Slaughter. LOS is manageable once you play the game enough (as is with any game, I suppose).

In any case, the LOS rules are supposed to be streamlined in the next series, Line of Battle, resolving these apparent inconsistencies.

Zones of Control (ZOCs)

In the game, ZOCs do not pin units. While you are prohibited from moving from one ZOC to another, when it comes to an isolated pair of units, it is entirely too easy to outflank your enemy - this is true in CWBS as well as RSS. The idea, of course, is that you set your units up so that they can’t be outflanked easily, but on some maps, with easier terrain, the 6 MPs afforded to a unit allows it to march all the way around the enemy and fire at them in the rear without that unit being able to react.

Again, in LOB, this is supposed to be resolved with "pinning" ZOCs. The incidence of this is not frequent, in any case, and has never occurred in my games of A Fearful Slaughter because the terrain is so expensive to move through.

A Bit of Criticism About the Map

The problem, here, is that A Fearful Slaughter includes much, many more line of sight issues than other maps in the series, due primarily to the tough terrain over which the armies fought, and the addition of slope lines on the map. I won’t launch into a long discourse about it, but briefly, hexes are colored to prescribe their level, the colors are not very distinctive, and the terrain overlaying the colors can make it nearly impossible to determine what color an underlying hex actually has. To compound matters, the game includes slopes (a single thick black line) and extreme slopes (a double black line) to denote sudden changes in elevation as compared to gradual changes in elevation. This can result in significant combat modifiers, obviously, but is a nightmare when conducting movement and LOS. “So I’m moving one hex into a higher elevation hex, crossing a double black line, into a hex with a thicket, a run, and a trail.” This would cost 5 MPs, but you have to check five different lines on the terrain chart to figure it out. LOS is an issue because trees on a hex raise that hex's height, and it can be difficult to determine what height a specific hex is at due to difficulty in determining its color.

The same calculation issues arise with water features. The map has runs, streams, and creeks. Runs have no effect on movement, streams cost +1, and creeks can only be crossed at bridges. But determining what is a run and what is a stream is, again, very difficult, when a hex might have three or four terrain features on it and the widths of the three types of water features are not easily discernable.

While the map is beautiful to look at, it takes some patience to get used to - having a friendly, happy-go-lucky partner helps, as well, since you can both come to some sort of accommodating resolution quickly.

The Command and Orders System

The command and orders system is my favorite mechanic and I’ve never seen it used in another game outside of miniatures rules. The command system is realistic and forces a player to make judgments about the orders he has written. You have to stick by what you ordered, both in spirit and in letter, but you are allowed some latitude in putting those orders to effect, just like real battlefield commanders of the day. For example, when your objective is to attack and capture X hill or road, it doesn’t mean you have to make a bee-line for the objective, charge the enemy over open ground and launch into close combat. You are allowed to make tactically proficient decisions. You might try to turn the opposing unit’s flank, or hold off at a distance of 600 feet or so (1 intervening hex) and open up with a few volleys before closing the gap. Or you might send one regiment to try and flank while another puts the enemy under fire to hold him in position. Or you might want to do all of this, but the damn subordinate commander - who can’t see the whole battlefield like you - doesn’t get his butt moving fast enough, and the magic moment disappears, leaving you with a pile of steaming crap.

You will find your commanders eventually obeying your orders, but only after it is too late to do any good.

Occasionally, a commander will follow your orders perfectly, and timely, only to find himself out of position with the rest of the army because the rest of those sorry pukes didn’t follow your commands efficiently. Your one good commander now finds himself engaged alone, and there’s little you can do about it.

The command system - as any good Civil War command system must do - wrecks havoc down on your cardboard units. Everyone is doing what they think they're supposed to be doing while you sigh, as so many generals must have done, thinking to yourself, “What the hell are they doing?”

One of the most innovative aspects of the command system is initiative, which basically allows a leader, if he is good enough, to ignore his orders and seize the initiative to do what he thinks is the right thing. This basically allows you to immediately trash an order you wrote hours ago and get that unit moving in a purposeful way - for instance Vincent’s decision to seize Little Round Top on the first day of Gettysburg despite having orders that had nothing whatsoever to do with that fateful hill. But beware - using initiative can cause your subordinate leader to become a Loose Cannon once in a while, thwarting your plans and ruining an otherwise masterful attack.

Casualties, Stragglers, and Combat Stoppage

The combat system feels real - I love it. You have guys falling out of line as stragglers. They might return later, once the fighting dies down and the unit isn’t in the thick of combat any more. Or maybe they won’t come back at all. In this game, a regiment has enough staying power to stay in the fight for a while - but an hour of constant musket fire is going to wear down the troops’ resolve.

As men fall dead, the wounded are brought back, and men begin “falling out of line” as stragglers, the mental stress it places on your commander can cause him to call off the attack and regroup, even though you, as the player, know he could win if he’d just push that little bit extra. This is the purpose of the Corps Attack Stoppage Check. This abstract roll simulates your commander on the ground making the decision to call things off due to his perspective, not yours. As with many things in this game, you set the machine in motion and try to tweak it as you go along, but it all falls apart in the end - with the guy who kept it together longer winning the battle.

The Options

The game - especially A Fearful Slaughter, but all the games in the CWBS and the RSS - come with a dizzying number of variants, optional rules, and other ways to tweak your battlefield experiences. A Fearful Slaughter lets you experiment with alternative Confederate deployments or as the Union, Buell might bring more of his forces to bear more timely, just to name a few. And small changes in this game can have far-reaching consequences, just as with the real battles historically. This wealth of options is a huge, huge plus to the game, adding uncountable hours of replayability.

Conclusion

I really, really, really, really, like the CWBS and the RSS. They provide a level of detail - realistically-feeling detail - that no other game I have ever played comes close to matching. For the casual wargamer, I would highly advise dipping your toes into the CWBS first before diving in to the RSS. If you like the CWBS, then you will find it the perfect appetizer to the main course that is RSS. For CWBS veterans, the odds are very good that if you are looking for additional detail in your CWBS games, the RSS is the game for you. More importantly, the CWBS games (most of them) can be acquired at reasonable prices, while the RSS games are typically more expensive and harder to find. For a starter game, I highly recommended Three Battles of Manassas - low counter density, smaller command and control problems, and three games in one box: the First Battle of Manassas, Second Battle of Manassas, and a hypothetical Third Battle of Manassas, each of which has it’s own scenario booklet chock-full of scenarios, optional rules, and variants. You could play once a week for months with just the scenarios and options available in Three Battles of Manassas.

Despite my gushing praise of Powell and Essig’s RSS - and it truly is gushing praise - when it comes to A Fearful Slaughter, I would have to not recommend it as the first choice for a new player to the RSS. While it simulates well the Battle of Shiloh, and is unmatched in accuracy and detail, it should probably only be purchased if you have a true interest in this battle, or if you have tried and enjoyed one of the other games in the RSS first. For veterans of the RSS, you probably already own this title, since it is one of the cheapest ones to obtain.

Grognard gamers will enjoy this title - if they have an interest in the Civil War and if they don’t have qualms with a written orders system (many do). The paperwork is not overwhelming, but you have to be committed and you have to have faith in the system.

For new players ready to jump into the RSS, I would recommend one of the other games in the series: South Mountain, This Hallowed Ground (Gettysburg), or This Terrible Sound (Chickamauga). Unfortunately, This Hallowed Ground is a collector’s item, going for $150 - $200 USD and This Terrible Sound is a mammoth game that will cost around $100 USD. Of the three, I would recommend South Mountain for the newcomer - it has a much smaller footprint, lower counter density, deals with a smaller battlefield, and can be picked up for around $50 USD.

For my money and my time, CWBS/RSS is superior to all and the equal of none when it comes to Civil War battles - but your mileage may vary. A Fearful Slaughter, in my opinion, is one of the weaker offerings of the RSS, not because it fails at a simulation but simply because it requires a bit of prior experience with the RSS to fully enjoy.

The real enjoyment from this game series comes from the excellent story that it tells . . . the near misses, the tragic defeats, and the wonderful taste of victory out of chaos. If you have an interest in the Civil War, you can’t go wrong with the CWBS or the RSS.

As a final thought, players of the CWBS and RSS will get much more enjoyment out of the game if they have a relaxed, non-sticklery (?) opponent who can come to quick accommodations regarding gray areas in the rules as they apply to specific on-map problems (like LOS and hexspines, as noted above).

I hope you enjoyed reading this mammoth tome and came away with a new-found interest in the series. Line of Battle is the next evolution of this brand with the Battle of Antietam as its flagship game, None But Heroes. This next evolution, I hope, will correct what I see as many of RSS's failings, primary among them the lack of a set of cohesive, authoritative rules and charts.

The Scenarios Available

In A Fearful Slaughter, there are no corps HQs because they did not exist in the organizational structure of the Army of the Tennessee. Instead, each division has it’s own HQ and must be given individual orders. Thus, I have had to approximate the number of corps/divisions within each scenario. These are meant to give players a rough idea of the number/amount of forces they would be dealing with. So, for those interested, here we go.

Stuart’s Brigade. This is an isolated engagement meant to be an introductory scenario, but also is historically realistic. The three regiments of Stuart’s Brigade (Union) fought an engagement far from the rest of its division against Chalmer’s Brigade (CSA). Three regiments on a side, brigade versus brigade.

“Take Your Damned Regiment Back to Ohio!”. This scenario covers the initial clashes between skirmishers and the first significant attack against (Division Commander) Sherman’s line. This is roughly two Union divisions v. two CSA divisions, with some corps elements.

Prentiss Attacked. This covers the initial attack against Prentiss’ Brigade near Spain Field after which, he fell back to the sunken road, an area later to be called the “Hornet’s Nest.” This is roughly one Union division versus one-and-a-half CSA divisions, with some corps elements.

Opening Attack. This scenario covers the entire initial CSA attack from dawn until about Noon of the first day, April 6, 1862. It covers roughly 6 hours of time. This roughly one or two Union corps (3-4 divisions) v. two CSA corps.

Hornet’s Nest. This covers the fighting around the sunken road. Three Union divisions face-off against three CSA corps. Reinforcements are given per the Reinforcement Cards.

The Final Drive. This scenario is perhaps the most interesting. Beauregard had an opportunity to order a final push at the Union lines before dusk of the first day, but he called off the attack. This scenario explores whether, had Beauregard ordered the attack, it would have had any chance of success. Six Union divisions defend against three CSA corps. Many regiments, brigades, and divisions are wrecked in this scenario.

“No Enemy Nearer Than Corinth”. This is a scenario that explores the entire first day of fighting. All forces are on the map with all reinforcements per the reinforcement card.

“Lick ‘Em Tomorrow”. This is a scenario that covers the entire second day of the fighting. All forces are on the map (except eliminated units).

“Water Our Horses in the Tennessee River”. This scenario covers the entire battle, including a night-time interlude.

What Might Have Been. This scenario covers the entire battle, but concerns itself with an alternative Confederate deployment and different Confederate starting orders. The designer warns that this scenario strongly favors the CSA player.

The Shiloh That Was. This scenario attempts to model the most historically accurate rendition of the battle. Consequently, players may find themselves ham-strung by scenario specific rules on command and control. This scenario covers the entire battle.

Edits: Grammar, spelling, clarity, style.
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Great review! Well thought out and written in great detail. I enjoyed it very much and wanted to offer my thanks to you for taking the time and energy to write it.
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A very thorough review! Thanks.
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Just a note that this review was posted twice accidentally. The first one was posted when I accidentally hit Submit instead of Preview. It had images missing and several other errors. This one is correct. If you thumbed the other review, thanks, but I figured it would be bad for the game's page to have two nearly identical reviews.

Cheers.
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Yep. A Fearful Slaughter (2004) was the third game in the RSS Series. Preceded by This Terrible Sound (2000). South Mountain was the last game in the RSS (2008). I had the order of publication out of order in my head. Will correct this.
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Great review Chris. Wow!

I have never tried RSS as I went down the GBACW path some time ago. I do own several CWBS games, but (alas) have never tried them. One day I will. As for RSS, I have been eyeing South Mountain.

The scale of these games have drawn me to them for decades. I think it is the narrative that generates from a session that is the real attraction. Playing a big game on a big battle can be an epic gaming experience.
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Capt_S wrote:
Great review Chris. Wow!

I have never tried RSS as I went down the GBACW path some time ago. I do own several CWBS games, but (alas) have never tried them. One day I will. As for RSS, I have been eyeing South Mountain.

The scale of these games have drawn me to them for decades. I think it is the narrative that generates from a session that is the real attraction. Playing a big game on a big battle can be an epic gaming experience.


I own one of the GBACW games - they look beautiful, but I have never been a fan of the chit-pull mechanic for movement . . . is that wierd? In any case, I never have played, mainly out of a lack of interested opponents more than anything - and I don't want to have to tackle yet ANOTHER set of rules . . .

CWBS is probably my favorite game system - and RSS is one of those "someday I'll find someone who wants to play . . . " sort of games. I've played a bit solo, and played a few of the smaller scenarios against online opponents, but the time commitment is just too much for most gamers - both the time to learn the rules and time to invest in playing. You really have to like/love the system to spend the time it requires.

If you want to try an "easy" CWBS game - let me know. I'm willing to teach, and just started up a Three Battles of Manassas online intro scenario with cscottk. I like this system so much, I don't mind having more than one going at once. I think the CWBS appeals to many gamers who want the detail of the large battles without the tedium of individual regiments. That being said, the Civil War was a war between regiments - they were the building blocks of the armies regardless of the command structure above them.

Nowadays, regiments are just an ad hoc title that they give to units that are grouped together - we use Divisions now, as the basic building blocks.

Cheers. Glad you liked the review.
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When I think of A Fearful Slaughter, I think of my sister-in-law's family. Her husband didn't like injections (shots) so I guess he is a fearful Slaughter. laugh
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HI Chris,

Very well done

and

Quote:
I really, really, really, really, like the CWBS and the RSS.


+1

I've set up AFS this thursday and I'll compare the rules for RSS and LoB, to choose which one to play with an entire war-session of THG with three other friends next month.
It's not an easy task but I can not wait to start a long-awaited play!

Again compliment,

F.
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Greta review, thanks. But I'm amazed that no one has yet commented that you mixed up Joseph Johnston and Albert Sidney Johnston in First Bull Run. Joseph J. was at Bull Run and Albert Sidney J. at Shiloh.
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Excellent review Chris! thumbsup

Was happy to mod this one...
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kiraly wrote:
Excellent review, Chris, very well done!

I know you stated the LoB was not the subject of this review, but I'm curious if you've tried it yet and what your thoughts are on it.


Hi!

No, I haven't . . . I don't where to get them. The rules for LOB are not available for download on The Gamers Archive at MMP, so I have never seen a copy.

Cheers!

Chris
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Juppe58 wrote:
Greta review, thanks. But I'm amazed that no one has yet commented that you mixed up Joseph Johnston and Albert Sidney Johnston in First Bull Run. Joseph J. was at Bull Run and Albert Sidney J. at Shiloh.


Ah, dammit! I figured my ignorance would shine through on something in this review. I will correct it.

Cheers.

Chris
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cmontgo2 wrote:
... The rules for LOB are not available for download ...


Try Here.

F.
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Filippo Chiari wrote:
cmontgo2 wrote:
... The rules for LOB are not available for download ...


Try Here.

F.


Downloaded the rules yesterday. I notice that the loss charts - one of my favorite parts of the CWBS - have been changed (probably for faster play), but are available for RSS players. Interesting.

Thanks for the link - a modest GG tip for you.

Chris
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In the 40+ years of wargaming, I have never read a more well though-out and presented review of a wargame. Outstanding. Thank you, Chris!
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Really great review (as usual). It leaves me in a bit of a pickle - try to play the game some day, or sell it and move on to something I may in fact play? I'm considering taking your advice and playing Three Battles... first, but I know that will just make me want to play this. And then I'm back at square one, having burned more hours that could have been spent here.
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fatgreta wrote:
Really great review (as usual). It leaves me in a bit of a pickle - try to play the game some day, or sell it and move on to something I may in fact play? I'm considering taking your advice and playing Three Battles... first, but I know that will just make me want to play this. And then I'm back at square one, having burned more hours that could have been spent here.


These games - both the CWBS and the RSS - are hard to find opponents for. The only opponents I've ever found were online and at conventions. They are also time-consuming games. Another option - which has since developed after my review was published - is to purchase the new Line of Battle (LoB) game, None But Heroes. This game is the newest iteration of the RSS rules, eliminates the issues with multiple rulebooks and charts, and unifies the whole system. Even better - old RSS games can be played using the new LoB system.

The LoB system integrated and streamlined many complaints of the RSS. The biggest issue that was resolved is that instead of each player firing in every round, a player who fires has counter-fire automatically applied using a single die roll. But the rules do much more than that.

I would check out the LoB rules, Chris, and see how they read for you. It might be just the middle ground you're looking for. Or better yet, download the LoB rules (for free!) and use them to play Fearful Slaughter.

Cheers.

Chris
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cmontgo2 wrote:
fatgreta wrote:
Really great review (as usual). It leaves me in a bit of a pickle - try to play the game some day, or sell it and move on to something I may in fact play? I'm considering taking your advice and playing Three Battles... first, but I know that will just make me want to play this. And then I'm back at square one, having burned more hours that could have been spent here.


These games - both the CWBS and the RSS - are hard to find opponents for. The only opponents I've ever found were online and at conventions. They are also time-consuming games. Another option - which has since developed after my review was published - is to purchase the new Line of Battle (LoB) game, None But Heroes. This game is the newest iteration of the RSS rules, eliminates the issues with multiple rulebooks and charts, and unifies the whole system. Even better - old RSS games can be played using the new LoB system.

The LoB system integrated and streamlined many complaints of the RSS. The biggest issue that was resolved is that instead of each player firing in every round, a player who fires has counter-fire automatically applied using a single die roll. But the rules do much more than that.

I would check out the LoB rules, Chris, and see how they read for you. It might be just the middle ground you're looking for. Or better yet, download the LoB rules (for free!) and use them to play Fearful Slaughter.

Cheers.

Chris


that is truly excellent advice, thanks. I'd heard something about None But Heroes being similar to RSS. I'll check the rules, but that sounds like the way to go.

Thanks!
 
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fatgreta wrote:

that is truly excellent advice, thanks. I'd heard something about None But Heroes being similar to RSS. I'll check the rules, but that sounds like the way to go.

Thanks!


Well - to be clear, Line of Battle is the next evolution of the RSS - it is the designer's update/redesign of the RSS. But yes, enjoy!

Chris
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Dear Mr. Montgomery,

What can I say,
After finding this post last night and giving it a read through, its taking me to this morning to say,
I am a American Civil War (ACW), enthusiast,
A GBACW nut from the early 1980s, who owns all of the MMP/RSS series games and just learn the system thanks to GeorgeS. a former game designer/reviewer.
A lover of regimental scale games, (which is why I bought the above games), and rest assured this system will become one of favorites to play. especially with the addition of Line of Battle, (Lob) series.
A Monster gamer.
Historical accurate reader, not just what was pumped out in schools growing up.
And ACW reenactor since 1996.

The final plus came when I openned the box and found the additional units.
What I like to call the, "What Ifs"
Units that may or not of made a difference had they been deployed.

Excellent
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