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Chickamauga: The Last Victory, 20 September 1863» Forums » Reviews

Subject: It is magnificent, but it is not Chickamauga! rss

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Pete Belli
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"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."

Marshal Pierre Bosquet, on the Charge of the Light Brigade

(Translation: "It is magnificent, but it is not war.")



Chickamauga is a game about the American Civil War battle fought in the mountains of northern Georgia near the city of Chattanooga in the fall 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.

I played this game straight out of the box just as if it had been purchased new in the era of Vinnie Barbarino and Bailey Quarters. No variants or house rules were used. Since this is a vintage 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.





Chickamauga is an entertaining game that offers an exciting play experience. It is generally regarded as the most enjoyable of the Blue & Gray “quads” because the action is fluid and both sides have an opportunity to attack or defend. The scenario provides the most competitive challenge in the B&G series and Chickamauga can become a tightly contested game when two veteran players square off against each other.

Does the game do a reasonable job of recreating this confusing and desperately fought battle? Mmmmm… not exactly.

The victory conditions have been carefully crafted to guide the contestants into a pattern which follows the historical narrative. Under precisely controlled laboratory conditions an outcome approximating the results obtained by Rosecrans and Bragg can be achieved. This is particularly true if the players are gentlemen (or ladies) who don’t take advantage of the rules and possess a healthy portion of the typical wargame Geek’s respectful devotion to history.

In 1863 the fog of war swirled along the banks of Chickamauga Creek in a blinding haze so dense that the modern reader might have difficulty appreciating the situation. In order to present this information in game terms we will discuss the board for Chickamauga and then analyze the historical validity of the scenario.





The terrain was heavily wooded. Neither commander had adequate maps of the area. The interlopers from the north were at a particular disadvantage; at one point in the battle Rosecrans was reduced to asking a local woman to guess where the sound of artillery fire might be coming from (“… nigh out about Reed’s Bridge…”) as his staff struggled to pinpoint the locations of the Union divisions. When the imperturbable Longstreet arrived with reinforcements from Virginia he was fortunate to locate a farmer who could guide his troops into position for an assault on the Federal line.

The map for Chickamuaga is just a couple of hexrows too small. While the playing surface does stretch from the crucial Rossville Gap all the way down to Alexander’s Bridge (the primary Confederate crossing point) the southern end of the battlefield has been omitted.

The area around Lee & Gordon’s Mill should have been included, even if it meant that the SPI design team had to increase the yardage covered by each hexagon. This would offer additional room for maneuver and also reduce the helter-skelter arrival of reinforcements on that edge of the map. Now these divisions did indeed arrive at a hectic pace during the battle; my point is that allowing some of these units to be deployed on the map at the beginning of the game would have been a better choice.

Speaking frankly, the board is not a highly accurate representation of the terrain. The excellent Designer’s Notes included with Chickamauga specifically mention that the map was compiled from contradictory sources and includes quite a bit of guesswork. The area around the Dry Valley Road and McFarland’s Gap seems particularly suspect, and this makes a big difference if play follows the historical pattern and the Federals are forced to skedaddle.





This might be a good time to discuss the order of battle. It is reasonably accurate and includes the elements a Civil War geek would expect to find in a game about Chickamauga like the mounted infantry of Wilder’s famous “Lightning Brigade” armed with repeating firearms.

As mentioned in the Designer’s Notes, artillery formations are abstracted. Fine with me. For the Union player each army corps is provided with one artillery unit which presumably represents a reserve contingent. I always thought this was the best way to handle Federal artillery in most of the B&G titles so I strongly approve. There are three generic Confederate artillery formations but I have a minor problem with these units. First, how about designating them as Left Wing, Right Wing, and Reserve instead of the 1, 2, and 3 blandness we received? More importantly, these Rebel units might be too strong. Rebel artillery concentrations were rare at Chickamauga (although Longstreet did order a powerful 12-gun battery to be established at the “hinge” between the two wings on the second day) so maybe weaker combat strengths might be appropriate.

Pity the poor wargame designer who has to make sense of Bragg’s corps structure when he completely reorganized his army after dark in the middle of the battle. Fortunately, in a low complexity brigade level simulation like a B&G “quad” these elements are essentially beyond the scope of the game. Perhaps we should take this opportunity to discuss the command and control rules in Chickamauga.





There are no command and control rules in Chickamauga. The designer of this folio is a wargame craftsman I respect so hopefully the decision was based on solid playtesting by SPI. The absence of such restrictions is surprising because Chickamauga was one of the biggest command cluster-fornications in American military history.


“All this talk about generalship is sheer nonsense. It was a soldier’s fight purely… If there had been any high order of generalship displayed, the disasters to both armies might have been less.”

John T. Wilder, commander of the elite “Lightning Brigade” at Chickamauga


Bragg had planned to smash the Union left flank and drive the Yankees into a mountain cul-de-sac and crush Rosecrans. The situation was slippery and the Federals had used a night march to move into new positions. This completely derailed Bragg’s scheme. Instead of sweeping around the Union flank the Rebels ran head-on into the Yankee army as it sidled north along the creek. Confusion reigned as the opponents fought a series of deadly encounters while both armies were in motion. Neither commander was truly in control of his own formations.

Bragg could not coordinate the actions of his subordinates and launch a properly sequenced assault. D.H. Hill and Polk dawdled and sent the already cranky Bragg into an angry tirade. Although the northern end of the battlefield offered a golden opportunity for a wide maneuver around the Union flank and was being probed by Forrest’s cavalry neither of these Confederate corps commanders were willing to suggest such a move to Bragg.

Rosecrans demonstrated extreme courage under fire but he often became excitable during a battle. Chickamauga was no exception. During one tense phase Rosecrans chastised a division commander in the strongest possible language for not responding promptly to an order from the army commander. Later in the battle that same officer received another order from Rosecrans that was based on a misguided appraisal of the situation by staff officers at headquarters. When the general obediently pulled his formation out of line in response to Rosecrans’ command a huge gap appeared. By a bizarre coincidence Longstreet struck that exact location with an attack column containing over 15000 Confederate soldiers.

One of the most dramatic episodes occurred on the second day of fighting. Granger and his small Reserve Corps (actually the size of an infantry division) had been ordered to guard the Rossville Gap. At great professional risk Granger disregarded these instructions and marched to the sound of the guns late on September 20th. His men arrived just in time to reinforce Thomas (the superb “Rock of Chickamauga”) at a desperate point in the battle.

None of these elements are present in the game. The player representing the abrasive Bragg can move and attack with his brigades as though the Rebel commander had a Svengali-like power over his disgruntled subordinates. Remember, his mixed bag of corps and division commanders had been juggled and switched or placed in new assignments before (and during) the battle. The player representing Rosecrans has a god-like view of the battlefield typical of almost every wargame and complete control over every unit on the map. Even the occasionally erratic Granger can rush southward on the first turn like a bride-to-be hitting a bargain basement sale on wedding dresses.

Would this have been a better game with a relatively simple set of command and control rules? The answer is probably “No!”

Part of the fun during a session of Chickamauga is the opportunity to send Bragg’s cavalry (Plus a few infantry brigades, which move at exactly the same speed!) on a drive to the Rossville Gap like Panzers racing to the Meuse River in Battle of the Bulge. Giving the Union player multiple options also deepens the play experience. Stand and fight or retreat? The clever victory conditions reward both gambits… and that fascinating supply train unit is a great “red herring” for the Rebels to chase.

Adding command restrictions could have provided historical flavor, but with an inevitable cost to playability. I enjoy the game for what it is, although I would be delighted to play a slightly more complex version of this classic edition of Chickamauga with leadership rules. I want a larger, more accurate map… and adjust those CSA artillery units!

Great game. Play it sometime.
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Sim Guy
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"Would this have been a better game with a relatively simple set of command and control rules? The answer is probably “No!”"

It probably would have just muddied up the game for no real gain in fun. The essence of the B&G games, and the Quads in general, is fun. Quick playing, uncomplicated games, that you could play in under two hours.

Chickamauga, like its cousins, isn't a very accurate simulation, but it's a great "game".

Great overview. thumbsup
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Kim Meints
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It was also a staple back in the day for Tournament play at the Con's.Made it to the Collectors Edition with a mounted map.The best of the B&G games

Great review as always Pete.
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Alan Sutton
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pete belli wrote:


Great game. Play it sometime.


Pete, I agree. I have played this 2 or 3 times and it is a terrific contest. Your contribution, as always, is to provide a bit more historical background than I already had. My ACW knowledge needs increasing and I fully intend to get down to serious study someday. Until then your threads here help me grope my way out of complete ignorance.

Nice one, again.
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Selamat pagi,
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pete belli wrote:
Great game. Play it sometime.


If only. In the meantime, I sit and fling geeknickels at your excellent reviews. To a neophyte your historical backgrounds and anecdotes have just the right density, and the presentation is superb throughout.
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Michael Wintz
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Again, Pete, another OUTSTANDING review!

So, what's next (he said in great anticipation)? Westwall Quad? Modern Battles Quad? Great War in the East? Army Group South?
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Ian Raine
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Would this have been a better game with a relatively simple set of command and control rules? The answer is probably “No!”

Actually yes it is.

A variant which included commanders and command control, and step losses along with an expanded crt which included 'Attacker shattered" results was released in a TSR era S&T.

It plays way better.
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Steve Herron
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Good review Pete. John Wilder liked our area of the country so much he built a hotel in the mountains of East Tennessee after the war. At one time one of the elementary schools here in Johnson City (before it was closed) was named after his daughter Ann Wilder Stratton. Here is the section about the hotel Wilder built from wilkipedia.

Quote:
It was experiences such as this that no doubt persuaded former Civil War general and mining tycoon John T. Wilder to construct a 20-room spruce log lodge atop Roan Mountain in 1877.[26] The lodge was built in the area now known as Tollhouse Gap, between Roan High Knob and Roan High Bluff.

Quickly seeing the value in providing a summertime escape from the hot, humid lowlands and overcrowded cities, Wilder began construction on a much larger hotel atop Roan in the early 1880s. To move materials up to the construction site (and to keep the hotel supplied once it was finished), Wilder had to construct a road across Carver's Gap.[27] He also built a house and the Roan Mountain Inn in what is now the village of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.[28] The Cloudland Hotel, as it came to be called, was completed in 1885. The hotel stood a few hundred meters away from the spruce log structure that preceded it.

The Cloudland Hotel was billed as a health resort, especially for those suffering from Hay fever. Over the years, its guest list grew to include various American politicians and European royalty.[29] Rates were $2/day, $10/week, or $30/month. The hotel sat right along the state line, and a white line was even painted across the dining room, following the border. During this period, alcohol consumption was legal in Tennessee, but illegal in North Carolina, so alcoholic drinks could only be served on the Tennessee side of the line. One story tells of a local North Carolina sheriff who "guarded" the dining room to ensure no one imbibed on the North Carolina side.[30]

The high operating costs of maintaining a mountain-top hotel eventually doomed the Cloudland. The hotel would be abandoned by 1910, and quickly fell into a state of disrepair. Wilder sold the hotel shortly before his death, and the new owner auctioned off the decaying building room-by-room. By 1927, a pile of rubble was all that remained.[31]



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Michael Lavoie
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Great work as usual, Pete! Just to echo what others have said, this is a great game, not a simulation of a complex and fascinating battle.

Would this have been a better game with a relatively simple set of command and control rules? The answer is probably “No!”


If you don't mind taking a small step up in detail (and, admittedly, playing time) I would highly recommend Glory. The Chickamauga scenario in that game is a lot of fun as well.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Great review Pete, even if I do wish this game had some simple command and control mechanics.
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Sim Guy
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IanR wrote:
Would this have been a better game with a relatively simple set of command and control rules? The answer is probably “No!”

Actually yes it is.

A variant which included commanders and command control, and step losses along with an expanded crt which included 'Attacker shattered" results was released in a TSR era S&T.

It plays way better.


Do you happen to know which issue? cool
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Kim Meints
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S&T 98
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Kim Meints
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Anyone who needs the S&T98 variant please send me your email

I tried posting a small variant from Phoinex magazine and BGG won't allow copyright materlial being posted. I have it aready on Hard drive
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Sim Guy
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I've got the issue. Thanks to all.
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Alan Sutton
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mwintz wrote:
Again, Pete, another OUTSTANDING review!

So, what's next (he said in great anticipation)? Westwall Quad? Modern Battles Quad? Great War in the East? Army Group South?


No, I hope not. Pete, stick your obvious area of main interest. The next series of reviews should be the next level of games up in complexity (and chronological wargame development): The GBACW.

I'm sure you know these games. I have played a couple of them in the last three years and despite the increased "fiddlyness" they are very exciting simulations. Also, perhaps, from your historical perspective, more realistic?

What do you think?
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Pete Belli
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Thank you for the kind words.

Quote:
What do you think?


I have these SPI wargames on my waiting list:

Antietam

Road to Richmond

Grand Chancellorsville


Plus a few thrift store finds.

That should keep me busy.

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Ian Raine
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SimGuy wrote:
IanR wrote:
Would this have been a better game with a relatively simple set of command and control rules? The answer is probably “No!”

Actually yes it is.

A variant which included commanders and command control, and step losses along with an expanded crt which included 'Attacker shattered" results was released in a TSR era S&T.

It plays way better.


Do you happen to know which issue? cool


I did a dtp double sided counter set for the revised game. I'm fairly sure Kim has the jpg and can pass on.

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What an outstanding review.

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Thanks for a great review! I played this game a few years ago with one of my boys. Loved the Panzers to the Meuse analogy! How true
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Kim Meints
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Yes I do have Ian's variant counters for the game and will send them to Eric,Heath & Pete right now

I forgot about those when I sent all the stuffgulp
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donald rhyne
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Great review pete.Now all we need is a review on antietam, road to richmond and that will compete the blue and gray quad games i have.Without your help or reviews I probably would't have the b+g quads out of mothballs.
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