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Subject: The best solitaire option from the Blue & Gray series rss

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Pete Belli
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Fredericksburg is a game about the American Civil War battle fought in December of 1862 between Robert E. Lee and the magnificently whiskered Ambrose Burnside. It was one of the popular SPI Blue & Gray II QuadriGames published in the 1970s. These small "quads" were originally produced in sets of four games which shared a common basic system. Each individual game within the package had its own separate booklet which contained special rules for that battle or campaign.

This flexible rules format allowed a player to learn the basics and move quickly between the other games in that series. In the QuadriGames playability took precedence over realism when simulating the historical event. These SPI classics helped introduce many players to the wargame hobby. They also offered an entertaining play experience for Grognards taking a break from more serious games. A few games achieved near-perfection because they were fun to play while also creating reasonably accurate military simulations.





The struggle at Fredericksburg is frequently misunderstood. The common perception that the entire battle consisted of a frontal assault by the Union army under Burnside against Lee and his Confederate soldiers entrenched behind a stone wall is incorrect. Fredericksburg was essentially two separate engagements fought a mile apart at different times of the day. The fighting on the Union left was relatively fluid. This prevents the game from descending completely into the depths of dreariness. Fredericksburg might not offer a delightfully entertaining conflict simulation experience for two players but it can provide an interesting solitaire puzzle for a Civil War buff.

I played this game straight out of the box just as if it had been purchased new in the era of ABBA and the BeeGees. No variants or house rules were used. Since this is a vintage game I’ll offer a summary of the movement and combat rules. Units must stop when they enter an enemy zone of control (the six hexes adjacent to a unit) and units may not voluntarily leave an enemy ZOC. All adjacent formations must be attacked during a player’s turn but a skillful general will position his artillery units (which can fire from two or three hexes away) to bombard adjacent units he doesn’t want to assault with his infantry or cavalry.

The proper sequencing of attacks and retreats provides a delicate web of decisions. This makes the “quads” fun to play. When using the optional Attack Effectiveness rule a general must exercise discretion when committing his troops to battle because a unit repulsed during an assault loses the ability to attack until it is rallied during a night game turn. Since the Combat Results Table includes brutal Exchange results which destroy units on both sides of the firing line the decision to launch a huge attack at high odds (battles are calculated using strength ratios like 2-1, 3-1, etc.) can be hazardous.





The map suffers from an unfortunate misalignment. Since the Fredericksburg folio was also part of the Grand Chancellorsville campaign game the western portion of the playing surface was extended to cover areas near Bank’s Ford and Salem Church required for this larger simulation. This alignment caused the crucial sector beyond Hamilton’s Crossing in the southeast corner of the board to be omitted. This had two negative results… it unrealistically anchors the Confederate flank while also preventing the Union player from executing Burnside’s gossamer plan to turn the Rebel right.

(The design team at SPI balanced this omission by slicing away an important part of the western edge of the Chancellorsville battlefield in the companion game Hooker & Lee. This truncated map caused problems with that folio game. What the B&G II series really needed was a set of three integrated boards covering the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg.)

The pruning of the terrain beyond Hamilton’s Crossing also removed Stuart and the Rebel cavalry from the scenario. This brings us to a discussion of the Fredericksburg order of battle.





The designer made some imaginative decisions in order to meet the requirements of the 100 counter limit in the SPI ‘quad” format. Since there were so many infantry brigades on the battlefield he chose to represent a few of the more powerful formations as divisions. For example, the famous “Stonewall” division under Taliaferro has a strength of 13 while on the Union side Hancock’s elite II Corps division is a 15 point unit. Confederate soldiers led by Jubal Early can appear as a single division with a combat strength of 20 or be deployed as four separate brigades. The selection of the V Corps division commanded by Humphries is fascinating. Most of the regiments in this formation were inexperienced nine-month militiamen but Humphries had inspired these troops with his leadership and his absolute fearlessness under enemy fire. Excellent choice.

The remainder of the order of battle is acceptable. As mentioned above, there are no Confederate cavalry brigades included in the scenario. The heavy caliber rifled artillery located across the river on Stafford Heights really should have been depicted by a special rule but the Designer’s Notes explain their absence. These powerful Yankee guns prevented Jackson from launching an immediate counterattack on the Union flank after the initial Federal assault was repulsed.





The command and control rules attempt to recreate Burnside’s vague orders and the lack of initiative displayed by Franklin during his attack on the Confederate right flank. Burnside had difficult relationships with many of his subordinates because these officers belonged to the McClellan faction in the Army of the Potomac. I just read a biography of Burnside by William Marvel. The general comes across the pages as a man who is honest and has a pleasant personality. His also comes across as an officer of limited talent who can perform routine assignments when assisted by competent subordinates... and totally out of his depth at the upper levels of military command.

The designer developed a Union command system that includes two elements. The player is only allowed to move 15 units during each turn (a small pile of poker chips might be helpful to keep track of the Yankee maneuvers) but other Federal units (including powerful artillery formations and reserve cavalry brigades) can be released if the Confederates become aggressive. The units can also be committed if a Union breakthrough allows the Federals to exit units from the map. It should be mentioned that one of these exit hexes is near Hamilton’s Crossing in the southeast quadrant; once again the awkward alignment of the board is crucial.

This restriction on Union mobility is certainly justified by the historical outcome of the battle. Burnside had optimistically expected Lee to withdraw after the Yankees launched a two-pronged attack against the Confederate flank and in the center near Telegraph Hill. Incomplete instructions from headquarters and an endemic lack of drive on the part of the Federal high command caused Burnside’s plan to unravel. The bloody fiasco in front of Marye’s Heights was the tragic result of miscommunication and inadequate reconnaissance.

The situation lends itself to solitaire play. Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson responded to the uncoordinated Union thrusts like the military professionals they were. Aside from launching limited counterattacks to restore the line the only major decision revolved around Jackson’s desire to strike the Union flank near the lower pontoon bridges. After consulting with Lee even the ferociously combative “Stonewall” agreed that the powerful Yankee artillery made the assault impractical.

The shackled Union player can treat each session as another chance to unlock the Fredericksburg puzzle. There are a few interesting options when formulating a plan of attack and I always like to send one or two Union brigades along the river beyond Falmouth just to keep the Confederates busy. In my sample game a massive Federal push up the middle in the direction of Lee’s headquarters came within one hex of the Yankee objective before darkness and heavy Union losses forced Burnside to order a retreat.

The victory conditions for Fredericksburg are relatively intricate by SPI “quad” standards. Points are scored for destroyed enemy units, of course. Points are scored for the occupation of crucial terrain. The defending Confederate player is offered a tempting smorgasbord of goodies along the river… don’t go for it! Only the greediest (or luckiest) Rebel commander can risk unleashing Burnside’s reserve formations by approaching the pontoon bridges.

Exiting units from the map scores additional victory points but I had a few problems with these rules. For some unknown reason the Confederate player is awarded bonus points for moving off the north side of the map near Falmouth. Bizarre. Lee had no more intention of crossing the river and entering Falmouth than the general had of visiting the planet Jupiter.

In another odd rule the Union player also scores points by exiting the map here. Now before the battle Burnside had considered crossing at Skinker’s Neck southeast of Fredericksburg or even making an amphibious landing at Port Royal in the same region. A move northwest into the Wilderness was also briefly discussed. However, once the battle at Fredericksburg began the Union commander was firmly committed to this crossing point. Racking up points for exiting at Falmouth makes little sense in the context of this engagement. Scoring points for leaving the western edge of the map is slightly less confusing, but that discussion is probably beyond the scope of this review.

If a successful Union player meets certain requirements he can continue the battle on December 14th and I strongly approve of this rule. Burnside was more than willing to sacrifice more troops and perhaps even his own life in order to defeat the Confederates. Lee and Jackson certainly would have welcomed another opportunity to smite the Yankee horde. Excellent rule. Too many Civil War battle games attempt to bind the players into a historical straitjacket because the fighting ended on this or that day of the calendar. Let the flow of combat determine if play should continue!

Solitaire? Recommended.

A two player experience? There are better choices.
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Tim Benjamin
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I used this game to teach new wargamers, the simple Confederate choices made their play easier as they saw how the rules work together. It is also easy to 'handicap' the game by giving the Union less, or more, units to move each turn.
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Pete Belli
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Peso Pete wrote:
There are some battles that just were not meant to be good wargames. The First Battle of El Alamein is one, Manzikert is another one and Fredericksburg is still another one.


So true.

When I was a boy Glory Road by Bruce Catton was one of my favorite ACW books. He describes the attack by Franklin as one of the lost opportunities of the war.

It certainly was a disappointing performance but after 30+ years of study I'm not in complete agreement with Catton. Franklin did control a huge force... the VI Corps, the I Corps, plus two divisions from the III Corps and a unit from the IX Corps. However, this sluggish Union general faced Jackson ("My men have sometimes failed to take a position, but to defend one, never!") and the Rebel commander was ready to smash the Federals as soon as they moved away from the cover of the Yankee heavy artillery. Longstreet had positioned a division (under Hood, another bad-ass fighter) to strike the Union flank if they pushed against Jackson.

I just can't see a slothful general like Franklin slashing and hacking his way through "Stonewall" Jackson's line and then absorbing a deadly counterattack by Longstreet (Old Pete's tactical specialty, by the way) while also keeping the Union flank anchored on the river.

What if Burnside's orders had been more specific? I can envision Franklin pushing forward (if he could ever get rolling... look at his performance at South Mountain) and then being knocked back on his buttocks. Still, that would make a more interesting Fredericksburg scenario.
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Pete Belli
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RaffertyA wrote:
I used this game to teach new wargamers, the simple Confederate choices made their play easier as they saw how the rules work together. It is also easy to 'handicap' the game by giving the Union less, or more, units to move each turn.


Good suggestion!
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Cracky McCracken
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in the era of ABBA and the BeeGees


the Bee Gees never went away Peter

i swear to you there is a copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack sitting right here next to my laptop. Give it try. Disco still lives.
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Sim Guy
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Another excellent review, Pete - I see a game room strewn with small Civil War games in my magic mirror (I still haven't completely cleared up my 4th of July week games). blush

I always found this game and Antietam very frustrating to play with the unit movement restrictions. I wasn't until later when I was working on my degree and reading up on these battles that they made sense. Strangely enough the feature, along with the manageable size and simple rules, is what makes these both good solitaire games.cool

What's next? You're getting me primed to play.
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Kim Meints
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I just played the game 2 weekends ago.a Reb victory.

It was at least 10 years since I played that folio
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Aaron Kulkis
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Quote:
i swear to you there is a copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack sitting right here next to my laptop. Give it try. Disco still lives.



Crackey McCracken needs to lay of the crack pipe.


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