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Subject: This early design by Richard Berg offered a glimpse of things to come rss

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Pete Belli
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Hooker and Lee is a game about the American Civil War battle fought near the Chancellorsville crossroads in the spring of 1863. 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.





Hooker and Lee does not simulate the entire Chancellorsville campaign. This folio depicts the battle fought near the Chancellor estate with a special emphasis on Jackson’s envelopment of the XI Corps on the Union right flank. The other important actions of the campaign at Fredericksburg and Salem Church are not covered in Hooker and Lee. More on that later.

Recreating the battle near Chancellorsville with a relatively simple game for two players is, for all practical purposes, impossible. The fog of war absolutely smothered “Fighting Joe” Hooker during the campaign. Lee’s reckless decision to divide his army in the face of a numerically superior enemy force isn’t likely to work a second time when the Union player has 20/20 hindsight. The bold flank attack launched by Jackson as dusk descended on the battlefield caught the Federal high command by surprise; a Yankee player with a god-like view of the terrain and detailed knowledge of the Rebel plan won’t get fooled again.

With that in mind, is this SPI classic an adequate representation of the battle using a game system with a low complexity level? The answer might surprise you, because after some reflection and a fair analysis of the design objectives the response is “Yes.”

Hooker and Lee was an early effort by Richard Berg, one of the most prolific craftsmen in the wargame hobby. I’ve never met Richard Berg. From a professional standpoint I would describe him as an artist who isn’t afraid to take chances with his designs and a virtuoso who is willing to throw stuff up against the wall just to see if it sticks. This vintage 1970s game is a good example.

I played this game straight out of the box just as if it had been purchased new in the era of the Pet Rock and Billy Beer. No variants or house rules were used. Since this is an older game I’ll offer a quick 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 talented 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 is an unfortunate victim of the QuadriGame system. To meet SPI’s space requirements important sections of the southern and western edges of the battlefield have been omitted. This truncated playing surface turns much of Jackson’s flank march and his crucial attack deployment into an abstraction. It also wrecks any opportunity the Confederate player might have to adopt the “small solution” of a direct attack on Howard’s XI Corps if Lee gets into trouble near the Chancellorsville crossroads.





The counter mix for Hooker and Lee is interesting and adds real depth to the play experience. The order of battle is reasonably accurate. The huge Union army is represented by infantry divisions, cavalry brigades, and artillery regiments. The smaller Confederate army is represented by infantry brigades, cavalry brigades, and artillery “brigades” which are actually similar to battalions. This inspired design decision provides the Rebel commander with approximately the same number of counters as the Yankee commander, but the Federal infantry formations are much larger. This results in a force of powerful Union Gullivers fighting off swarms of pesky Confederate Lilliputians. The harried Federal player will probably feel the same frustration Hooker experienced in 1863. Excellent.

The rules attempt to solve the Chancellorsville dilemma with a double-barreled blast of proven wargame mechanics. One rule covers Hooker’s command problems and the other covers Jackson’s flank march.

The historically befuddled Union player (it didn’t help matters when Hooker was knocked unconscious by a Confederate artillery round which struck his headquarters) is only permitted to move six units during the early stages of the game. Don’t be fooled by that low threshold. The rule works.

Obviously some restrictions on the Union player’s ability to maneuver is justified by the historical situation and the need for a balanced play experience. Even a feebly functioning Union player with see the need to prepare for Jackson’s attack. This is utterly ridiculous from the viewpoint of a design wishing to recreate the historical narrative but it simply cannot be avoided. However, the command and control rules could prevent the Union player from building a Maginot Line on the edge of the Wilderness if the Confederate player emulates Lee’s strategy by keeping the Yankees under pressure near Chancellorsville. In other words, the whole contraption sputters along even though the machinery is rattling and parts are flying off.

After the Union reinforcements arrive (these formations are not subject to the original movement restrictions) the Federal commander could be in for a pleasant surprise. With average luck and skillful play the Yankee will discover that moving those six units will parry Lee’s repeated assaults and perhaps be enough to conduct a few Union attacks.

The sweeping maneuver around the Federal right flank is handled with off-map movement. As I mentioned earlier, the map is too small. To recreate this bold gambit of Jackson and his wing of the Rebel army the prescient Confederate player is permitted to move as many as 20 units off the southern edge of the board. These formations appear later on the western map edge. This works on a superficial level but subtle options available to the Confederates (like the direct approach I discussed) have vanished. In addition, the intricacies of Jackson’s attack formation which consumed a tremendous amount of daylight are lost when the Rebel units simply stumble onto the map and smash into the “Dutchmen” around Wilderness Church. Screw that SPI folio map! I want an expansion!

While the aggressive Confederate player can use standard Blue & Gray tactics the Union player must adapt to a limited number of large formations and the prohibition against stacking. Each general is actually playing a different tactical game in this asymmetrical contest. A talented Yankee commander will maneuver his big divisions into positions which require the Rebels to counterattack at horrible odds. With a few unfortunate die rolls the Confederates could find themselves on the wrong end of the casualty equation.

There are some oddities. In the published rules artillery and cavalry don’t function much differently than infantry. In the sample game used to prepare for this review (my first exposure to the game in decades) the gallant III Corps artillery brigade moved through the tangled forest to block A.P. Hill’s advance on the U.S. Mine Ford sector. A quirk in the rules allows the Union player (who moves last in the final turn) to conduct a bizarre series of kamikaze attacks against Lee and Jackson. Regardless of how jumbled the Yankee lines are at the end of the turn the Rebels won’t be able to exploit the seemingly idiotic deployment of Hooker’s divisions

This session tended to follow the historical pattern. The battered but unbroken Union army defended in a horseshoe anchored on the river. The cautious Confederates had only sent two divisions (Hill and Rodes) on the flank march so much of the heaviest fighting took place along the river on the Union left flank. Since the game offers a multitude of victory conditions the score tally was somewhat neglected during play. The final outcome was essentially unknown until the final die roll as the Union player launched another dubious 3-1 attack that made absolutely no sense from a military perspective.

Players score points for destroying enemy units based on the formation’s combat strength. Since the Yankees score 3 while the Rebels score 2 a few unbalanced Exchange results on the CRT (say a Union “8” division for a Confederate “5” brigade) won’t hurt the Federals. In fact, this mutual slaughter might be to the Union player’s advantage since the fractional ratio of victory points to reach different levels of success favors the Yankees. Hooker and Lee uses the classic SPI system of marginal victory, decisive victory, and so forth... I always liked that approach. Speaking of destroyed units, this game also includes detailed rules for army demoralization after heavy casualties have been suffered. I strongly approve.

Both players can score points for terrain objectives. The Union player scores for exiting forces off the eastern edge of the map, presumably to join Sedgwick near Fredericksburg. This is historically accurate but any Yankee who gets a division or two past Robert E. Lee has my sincere admiration.

In this sample game the Union commander didn’t play to win, he played not to lose. Since this is the strategy Hooker eventually adopted there can be no argument about the choice. By the end of the game the Confederates had suffered so many losses after being locked into hopeless counterattacks that a marginal Union victory was assured.





Hooker and Lee stands on its own as an amusing little distraction for the Civil War buff. You might remember that the title of this article refers to a glimpse of things to come. This game can be combined with the Fredericksburg title from the B&G II collection to form a hidden gem called “Grand Chancellorsville” and that simulation is a fascinating ACW tidbit. Richard Berg included all the bells and whistles with rules for leaders, strategic movement, and corps or divisional integrity. The game is played on both maps with all of the formations which were present during the Chancellorsville campaign and it is tons of fun. I plan to review “Grand Chancellorsville” in a week or two.

After 35+ years in the conflict simulation hobby I have observed many game designers and seen these artists grow and develop new concepts or systems. Looking back on a title which was published in 1975 (before many of the Geeks on this website were born) it is amazing to think that a young Richard Berg just entering the wargame arena pounded this thing out in spite of the challenges presented by the Chancellorsville conundrum.
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Kim Meints
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Pete

Outstanding as always.

You're really pounding out a game every day or two
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Pete Belli
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jackiesavon wrote:
You're really pounding out a game every day or two...


These old SPI "quads" are like cotton candy. I've got my eye on Antietam and Chickamauga for next week.
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Robert Wesley
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Another excellent display for yours here, "old chap", and I have to wonder if you felt this were influenced heavily with the likes of the re-issued 1974 Avalon Hill Chancellorsville ? Granted, then R.H.Berg had to condense his version with what you've presented as this, and I too was happier for "Grand Chancellorsville" once it were available. I'd even gotten a copy of his 'Clash of Arms' edition about the battle: Chancellorsville; since none was forthcoming within the GBACW series as of yet, or still? It is rather quite difficult to accurately portray an unbeknowst "flanking maneuvers" upon an opponent that can then espy it taking place, as it occurred. His approach on that aspect in this GAME you'd highlighted, is decent enough at that. "Cooldoes" on everyone's behalf for just such!
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Steve Herron
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Do you have Road to Richmond which was issue #60 and goes with the Blue & Gray series? If so will you be doing a review of it?
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Pete Belli
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sherron wrote:
Do you have Road to Richmond which was issue #60 and goes with the Blue & Gray series? If so will you be doing a review of it?


Yes to both questions.
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Michael Wintz
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Well done, Pete! Another excellent report! Your gaming viewpoints are enlightening, your historical background is sound, and your simple excitement for the "playing of the game" is inspiring. I have thoroughly enjoyed these B&G reviews.

A question appears here as it did in an earlier view about Antietam regarding command and control. In this game, how is the Union player hampered by Hooker's decisions as Antietam was by McClellan's? You mentioned the US may only six units - for how many turns?
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Sim Guy
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More good stuff. S&T and Decision continued to put out a slew of B&Gs in the magazine. This should provide enough fodder to keep you busy for the rest of the Summer, if you pace yourself.

I was retroactively disappointed with this game - I enjoyed it when I played it the first time or two, but once I read more about the battle I felt shortchanged by the implementation decisions (you mentioned above) the SPI guys made. Ignorance was bliss.
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Pete Belli
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mwintz wrote:
a question appears here as it did in an earlier view about Antietam regarding command and control. In this game, how is the Union player hampered by Hooker's decisions as Antietam was by McClellan's? You mentioned the US may only six units - for how many turns?


Right. This is an important element.

During the opening phase Hooker can only move six units, but any number of Union formations may attack.

One turn four (just before sunset) the I Corps arrives with three Union divisions plus an artillery regiment. At night two cavalry brigades arrive but they might have trouble crossing the river because the division commander was inadequate. These reinforcements do not count against Hooker's command and control limit.

Things were extremely tense at the beginning of the game (which is a good thing) and after the I Corps arrived the Union general was able to conduct quite a respectable battle. I think the six unit restriction works as well as any simple system could be expected to function.

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donald rhyne
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Great review as allways pete! Looking forward to the other blue and gray Quad reviews.Just bought s+t103road to vicksburg+champions hill,s+t166 savage station and olusta,s+t 170 atlanta campaign.I NEED S+t169 to complete my blue and gray collection?
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Walter Clayton
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Actually this was Berg's First game. Played it alot in the past.

The Grand Chancellorsville game (Fredericksburg+Hooker vs Lee) is where this game shines. No off map movement, but, I guess you could work it in.

Leaders and other extra rules make it a fine game all around.
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Pete Belli
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waccoo wrote:
...The Grand Chancellorsville game (Fredericksburg+Hooker vs Lee) is where this game shines...


Quite right.

This is the map configuration:

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Ian Raine
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Pete, did you ever get to the Grand Chancellorsville game done?
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Pete Belli
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IanR wrote:
Pete, did you ever get to the Grand Chancellorsville game done?


Regrettably, no.
 
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