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Subject: Culture is Roughly Anything We Do & Monkeys Don’t rss

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David G. Cox Esq.
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Alma



The First Battle of the Crimean War
Designed by J. Matisse Enzer
Published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (1978)




In 1978 both SPI and GDW released games on the Battle of the Alma. They have many similarities but the differences make, in my opinion, only one of them really worth playing.

Components
Map – the SPI map is done at a smaller scale and shows less of the battlefield than the GDW map. This is good because a lot of the GDW map was never really used. The SPI map looks better as it has more colour, has a cream background (which is more appealing to the eye than the stark whiteness of the GDW map) and tends to focus on crest-lines and ridges rather than depicting elevated areas as hills. The river follows the hex-sides and, most importantly, the hex rows run north-south which allows more opportunities for manoeuvre than is the case in the GDW map.

Counters – the SPI counters are thicker and more colourful – I think they have more personality than the GDW counters and, I must say, I like my counters to have personality.

Rules – the SPI rules are longer (9 pages) and also have excellent historical notes. The SPI rules contain more chrome, and in this case, chrome gives a much better feeling of verisimilitude and an appreciation of some of the historical nuances that made this battle what it was.

Rules
Stacking – in both games there can only be one infantry unit in a hex and artillery can stack with infantry. In the GDW there are also cavalry units. The SPI game has no cavalry on the basis that the cavalry was never used in the battle – it was off on the flank playing polo or other stuff that cavalry does on the edge of a battle.

Sequence of Play – it is similar to the GDW game but has subtle differences:
1. Movement Phase – phasing player moves his units
2. Defensive Fire Phase – non-phasing player fires as many units as he wishes
3. Offensive Fire Phase – phasing player’s units fire
4. Melee Phase – phasing player has option to engage adjacent units
5. Rally Phase – disrupted units attempt to rally
6-10. The Second Player repeats the above sequence and then the game proceeds to the next turn.

Morale is important but not as random as in GDW’s Alma. In the SPI game I actually feel that I have more direct control over what is happening on the battlefield and I like this feeling.

The SPI game has a little bit of chrome which limits what I can do within historical constraints. Units are generally Brigades and Regiments and they are part of a ‘parent’ formation, the Division. If units from different divisions combine firepower there are negative modifiers – apparently there was a lot of rivalry between divisions and the idea of cooperating with people from other divisions was abhorrent. Tactical doctrine at the time was that divisions should stay together – the rule for crossing the river Alma is that no British unit may move more than two hexes away from the river until all units of the division have crossed the river. In the case of the French they may move no more than three hexes from the river until all units have crossed. French doctrine of the time was that infantry did not advance unless supported by artillery.

Victory is determined by scoring points for eliminating enemy units. The Russian player can subtract points from the Allied total by exiting units in the latter stages of the battle.

On the negative side, the game cannot be played without the errata. Some units’ set-up hexes are missing from the map and the Allied artillery’s class is missing from the fire table (making it impossible to fire it).



The game is worth playing. I think it is a better scale than its GDW counterpart, allows me to feel that I am making meaningful decisions in game terms and gives me a better feel for the history of the battle.

For the record, the title of the review is a quote from Lord Raglan, the commander of the British forces and the inventor of the raglan sleeve. Interesting when you consider he only had one arm.
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Kim Meints
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My goodness David,You got the SPI review done fast tonight.Very nice
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David G. Cox Esq.
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jackiesavon wrote:
My goodness David,You got the SPI review done fast tonight.Very nice


I had been fiddling with both games over the last month. I first started on the draft about two weeks ago.

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Michael Wintz
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I guess it must be me. I remember playing both Alma games (GDW,SPI) about 8 years ago, back to back (sort of what you've done here). And I felt a great sense of deja vu, that I had played the same game twice.

Maybe it wasn't that the rules were so similar (but they are, sorta), but rather that the battle progress and strategies were so similar.

David, when you just played these games, did you find that the battle plan and action in one was pretty much the same when you played the other?

Now, I've got some multiple games of individual battles, that are pretty close in scale. And when I play them back to back, I feel I have more strategic and tactical options than I do than when I play the two Almas. The British and French will take some time to cross the river and then climb the hills to push the Russians out. The same strategy, about the same time to play the game, with same results.

I also played these games when they first came out, played them both, and then wondered if both SPI and GDW had used the same playtesters, who then offered the companies the same advice to both. The games, to me, had just so much similarity in gameplay and battle action that I found that it was hard to tell the difference between the two.

Then again, I would like to see the GDW's glossy counters on the more colorful SPI map. And then, I'd like some bacon.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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I'd like a sausage roll.

I found the games developed quite differently. The GDW game was just a made scramble as the Allies pushed towards the road and the randomness of the morale rolls created effective loss of control.

I found the SPI felt more like a battle as the Allies forded the river, regrouped and then pushed forward, with the objective of destroying enemy units.

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Pete Belli
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Impressive pair of reviews. thumbsup

Quote:
...the hex rows run north-south which allows more opportunities for manoeuvre than is the case in the GDW map.


The orientation of the hex grid is a crucial wargame design decision, not to be taken lightly.

Quote:
For the record, the title of the review is a quote from Lord Raglan, the commander of the British forces and the inventor of the raglan sleeve. Interesting when you consider he only had one arm.


Perhaps this was an off-the-cuff remark.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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pete belli wrote:
Quote:
...the hex rows run north-south which allows more opportunities for manoeuvre than is the case in the GDW map.


The orientation of the hex grid is a crucial wargame design decision, not to be taken lightly.

Quote:
For the record, the title of the review is a quote from Lord Raglan, the commander of the British forces and the inventor of the raglan sleeve. Interesting when you consider he only had one arm.


Perhaps this was an off-the-cuff remark.


this is the first time I have really noticed the orientation of hexes to have a seriously detrimental effect on a game.

In regards to Raglan, it also explains why he was not terribly good with his armies.

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Sim Guy
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da pyrate wrote:
[q="pete belli"]
Quote:
...the hex rows run north-south which allows more opportunities for manoeuvre than is the case in the GDW map.


The orientation of the hex grid is a crucial wargame design decision, not to be taken lightly.


Quote:

this is the first time I have really noticed the orientation of hexes to have a seriously detrimental effect on a game.


Nice tidy writeup. I tend to agree with your conclusions, but I always attributed it to my innate favoritism for anything SPI.

With respect to hex orientation; I have won or lost many a battle because of my ability, or inability, to optimally set up my lines for defense, with respect to the hex orientation. I remember reading a fairly lengthy bit, by a well regarded game designer (who's name escapes me) dealing with the importance of setting up the orientation of the hex grid in order to subtly favor one side over the other. He explained that he often used it in order to purposely give one side a slight advantage, in order to account for some unquantifiable historical advantage, without actually giving that side any numerical factor superiority. He also mentioned how it could compel a player to adopt a similar attacking or defensive strategy. Interesting stuff - if I could find it again...
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David G. Cox Esq.
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In the case of the GDW game, having the hex-rows running across the board means that the Allies, when advancing can only attack a hex from two adjacent hexes. In the SPI game with hex-rows running north-south you can get in an attack from three hexes onto one. Because of the way the GDW morale rules work, where units must pass a morale check before entering melee, the combat resolution becomes much more random than in the SPI game.
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eric george
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SimGuy wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
[q="pete belli"]
Quote:
...the hex rows run north-south which allows more opportunities for manoeuvre than is the case in the GDW map.


The orientation of the hex grid is a crucial wargame design decision, not to be taken lightly.


Quote:

this is the first time I have really noticed the orientation of hexes to have a seriously detrimental effect on a game.


Nice tidy writeup. I tend to agree with your conclusions, but I always attributed it to my innate favoritism for anything SPI.

With respect to hex orientation; I have won or lost many a battle because of my ability, or inability, to optimally set up my lines for defense, with respect to the hex orientation. I remember reading a fairly lengthy bit, by a well regarded game designer (who's name escapes me) dealing with the importance of setting up the orientation of the hex grid in order to subtly favor one side over the other. He explained that he often used it in order to purposely give one side a slight advantage, in order to account for some unquantifiable historical advantage, without actually giving that side any numerical factor superiority. He also mentioned how it could compel a player to adopt a similar attacking or defensive strategy. Interesting stuff - if I could find it again...


Was it Dunnigan? Apropos to nothing but with every passing year he looks more like the professor on Futurerama.
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Sim Guy
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I'm pretty sure it wasn't. But only because, when I was in school, to me Dunnigan was The Man in wargaming and I practically hung on his every prognostication. If it had been him I would have remembered.

I still have a tremendous amount of respect for JFD and his massive contribution to the hobby, and my hero worship phase has long since passed. But he will always hold a special position in my personal gaming history.

It may have been Zucker or Costikyan - I do think it was one of the SPI guys. I just can't remember. The ravages of age...blush
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This is a case of when you wish we had vassal modules for SPI games.

I really like this system - the combat system is what we should have in Kevin Zucker's NLB games.

Anyway, I recently solitaired the Tchernaya River game, but my gaming buddies are not much interested in the period; found it a very exciting and rewarding game.

This is a common problem/quirk for me - I prefer wargaming periods that are NOT mainstream - but instead its Napoleonic this, ACW that, East Front WW2 again and again.

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heath p avery wrote:
Try being me .....hahahaha
I love gaming colonial wars....aka the sun never sets vol 1 and 2 etc
, love franco - prussian war and get into medieval bash and slash...
everyone else wants to play silly panzers and jet fighters !!!!


And if we were neighbors, we would be gaming all that stuff all the time - my Battles of the Age of Reason stuff just sits on the shelf, unused.
 
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