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Subject: Impressions of First Play (Antietam, Full Battle) rss

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Tom Russell
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Dearborn
Michigan
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I found an unpunched copy of Glory III for $2 at a garage sale in late May. I was pretty excited about it because, first of all, it's not often that you find a wargame (or any modern game really) at a garage sale. Secondly, with the exception of Columbia's Shiloh: April 1862 (which, being a block game, doesn't lend itself to solo play*), I don't have any Civil War games in my collection. So I was happy to rectify that.

[*-- Though I'll remark that Columbia's Shiloh is easier to solitaire than some of its other games.]

I set the game up in my garage in early June for solo play. The plan was that each morning I would play a game turn. That didn't quite work out-- the record heat over the last two months saw to that-- but to make a long story short, I finished the game yesterday. I'd estimate that it took maybe nine or ten hours of play time.

It's a long game, as the rules make clear. Each turn represents 45 minutes of the battle, and for the first half of the game, each turn took me 45 minutes to play. The advantage to a long game is that you have enough time, within a single play, to change your mind about it. That was the case for me: at first blush, I really didn't care for the game, but over the course of the next ten hours, I had time to change my mind.

There are two things I wanted from the game, things I would want from any Antietam game, going in: McClellan and the bloodshed. The chit-pull mechanic, and the special restrictions on the Union Player's pool in the historical scenario, very ably recreate Little Mac's generalship.

The bloodshed was another matter. The game is heavily focused on morale; a unit that takes a hit may become disordered and is flipped to its opposite side, which reduces its morale (here called its "cohesion"). But that's all that's reduced, factor-wise; the combat factor remains the same. Once the unit is free from EZOC, it can make a rally attempt (rolling short against its cohesion) on its next activation and flip back to its front side.

A unit that is disordered cannot charge (and here charge represents all Infantry and Cavalry attacks), so while the combat factor remains the same, its combat capabilities are somewhat reduced. (I say somewhat, because combat seems to heavily favor the defender, which is fairly accurate for the period.) But once it rallies it's able to charge once more.

This bothered me to no end. Now, I'm not a bloodthirsty man at heart. I don't play wargames to replay the death and maiming of thousands. But with Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history, I want to get a sense of that bloody collision, of heavy losses and the diminished combat factors that go with it.

But, as I said above, one thing about a long game is that you have time to change your mind about it. And while I'd still prefer a step-loss (reduced CF) approach to Antietam, I will say that as the game pressed on, this morale system did give a sense of exhausted collision. Sometimes only one or two units out of an entire brigade were able to make an attack, with rally attempt after rally attempt failing for their fellows. Union pushed against Confederates, and the Confederates pushed back in a slow, brutal slug-fest. The fight for Burnside's Bridge was particularly "bloody", as wave after wave struggled with the terrain's devastating -3 modifier-- that was assuming they survived defensive fire, which they usually didn't.

Which brings me to another sticking point: I'm not overly fond of the combat system. I'm wary of saying that it's too "random", because dice are a perfectly acceptable and mathematical way of simulating the vagaries of combat. I like nothing more than rolling d6 and consulting the CRT.

But combat in Glory III is d10-based, and it feels "swingier" to me than d6, I think because d6-based systems represent a smaller set of statistical possibilities. There are three kinds of combat in Glory III.

Artillery combat involves adding/subtracting modifiers-- the artillery's combat factor (1-3), range modifier (usually 0 or +1 in my experience), and terrain modifier, if any. In the vast majority of cases, I was adding 1, 2, or 3 total to the d10 result. Here's the thing: I have to hit at least "9" total, at which point the defending unit will make a cohesion check. So, if the modifier was say +3, I would need to roll at least a 6. This is a short d10, so only four of the results (6-9) would work. So, I have a 40% chance of hitting with an artillery cannon at close range.

Well, not really-- that result merely means that the defender must roll short against their cohesion, which ranges from 3-7. So, for my artillery attack to do any damage against someone with a cohesion of say 5, the defender must roll a 6-9-- they have a 60% chance of nothing happening.

Now, as I got better at understanding the game (and realized my mistake with the stacking rule), I was getting some +5 DRMs to my artillery roll, but unless I rolled an 8-9 for a total of 13+ (which is an automatic disorder), a +5 DRM didn't make me any more likely to actually hit the enemy, as it had no effect on their cohesion check. This bothered me too, until I started thinking more about Defensive Fire.

Defensive Fire is made by the defending unit against the charging unit(s), and if successful will disorder that unit and prevent it from charging. It is a long roll made against the attacker's cohesion. If the charging unit has a cohesion of 4, the defender has an unmodified 50-50 chance of hitting. This is regardless of that unit's combat factor-- a 3 rolls just the same as a 5, and regardless of the enemy's combat factor. There are some modifiers that dial the chance up or down-- a -1 for additional charging hexes, a +2 against Cavalry, etc. I often marshaled three stacks of two Infantry units a piece and ended up with only one or two still able to attack.

Which is certainly accurate as far as "charging" goes. But the game mechanic of charging represents both charging and close-range fire-fights. And the thought of one regiment being able to pick off most of six enemy regiments while those regiments are firing at them, with apparently no ill effect for the defending unit-- well, it bothered me quite a bit, and still does.

Where defensive fire does work rather well though is with regards to artillery. If firing on a single hex, artillery gets a +2 on defensive fire; if two artillery are stacked, it's another +2. A +4 bonus when you're trying to roll long against a cohesion factor of 4 is a 90% chance of hitting, and against 7, a 60%. Which is of course what happens when you're stupid enough to frontally charge enemy artillery from a single direction.

Charging itself is resolved by adding different modifiers and hoping for a 5 or better (hopefully better). There are modifiers for combat strength ratio, terrain, the direction of the charge, difference between cohesion rates. It's generally better to attack with superior strength in the enemy's rear, as that avoids defensive fire and gives you a +1 (you get a +2 for a combined front-and-rear attack, but that front unit must first survive defensive fire). But even this isn't fool-proof. I had more than one attack in which I had a greater than 4:1 attack (+4) from the rear (+1, total 5) against an enemy with a higher cohesion (minus the difference). I rolled a big fat ugly 0 and all my men were disordered; I then rolled against their cohesion and all of them retreated. Some of them could only retreat into enemy frontal hexes and suffered another disorder result (removing them from the map). Having six units rendered useless by a single enemy unit who repulsed them from the rear was kinda irritating. On the one hand, I had rolled poorly-- the odds were with me even if the dice weren't. On the other, on the 4:1 column on most CRTs, rolling badly doesn't result in "all attacking units get flipped, check for retreat and may be eliminated".

Combat, as I've demonstrated, heavily favors the defender and that is accurate for the period. At the same time, the number of times disordered low-CF units seemed to effortlessly shrug off hordes of fresh ones stretched credulity for me personally. YMMV.

So, I'm not overly thrilled with the combat system personally-- though I like it more than I did when I started playing. There are other features that more than compensated: managing congestion and logistics are a must and fraught with difficult decisions. It's possible to combine the activations of brigades with the same divisional leader by rolling long against their combined leadership rating. But if you roll short, all those units are out of command and cannot move adjacent to the enemy. This was especially perilous in trying to take Burnside's Bridge, where I often had to move away the disordered two-unit stack belonging to one leader before moving a fresh stack of another leader. Scammon has a very troublesome combined activation rating of 5-- necessitating an unmodified roll of 8+ on a short d10 to combine with another leader (I'm still pretty new to reading about the ACW; was Scammon difficult to coordinate with?). This created a lot of tension and frustration-- both qualities being of the variety that make me play these games in the first place.

The only other issue I had is that, over the course of playing the game, I forgot the victory conditions. I had used the "ZZZ" markers from the Cedar Creek scenario to mark the hexes McClellan needed to take to increase his chit pool's size, and had by the end of the game, two months later, figured that these were the victory hexes. There were in fact six victory hexes, only one of which overlapped with the hexes I had marked. It's certainly not the game's fault that I failed to look at the victory conditions after my first couple of turns, but I think if the victory hexes had been marked or outlined on the map that it would have avoided this problem and I would have used a more viable strategy. (I'm hesitant to mark these hexes myself should I want to trade or sell the game after a few more plays.)

In general, it passes the time admirably, and in the end provides a slowly-unfolding approximation of the action at Antietam. The rules are elegant and the decision space enriching. I want to stress that: this is a well-designed game, and I'm going to be playing it again. Every designer emphasizes different things in their approach to a particular era or battle; every gamer seeks different things from a game based on a particular era or battle. Some of the aspects of this design resonate with me very well and others less well. The purpose of this pseudo-review was to explore both of those things, and to hopefully inspire some discussion about the game in this thread.
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Jim F
United Kingdom
Birmingham
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You know with Hitler? the more I learn about that guy, the more I don't care for him
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Very balanced review. Thank you.
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Jon
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Agreed. This is a superior, detailed review especially of the mechanics. Thanks for putting it together for us.

I think it is interesting how Richard Berg's grand tactical games have changed over time. From what you say about this game, of which I am not familiar, I can see some of that similar patterning.
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Alan Sutton
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Moruya
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I'm playing this now for the first time. Your review has been very interesting, thanks a lot for it. My opponent and I have already played the Borodino game with these rules. That was a bit stodgy, probably because that battle was so static, a real slug fest. This one seems more playable. I think the rules have been simplified (from memory, you had a morale check before charging in Borodino as well as suffering DF) Also the map is smaller with less units which is nice. Have only just started but the game seems to flow quite well.
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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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I am sure $2 is a real bargain - worth every penny you spent with such a game. I wish I could have been in the U.S. finding the garage sale gems like this.

The combat resolution doesn't seem convincing, especially when I played Shiloh: Bloody April, 1862. In that game, designer Paul Koenig seemed to contrast a picture of what Berg did in the above game. He thought that the war was bloody with constant reduction of steps and removal of counters from the map, artillery fire enabling infantry attacks effectively, directional advantage, leadership command (range) of troops etc. From what I read above, I think Shiloh: Bloody April, 1862 might be a better game for you, if you are sort of pardoning the errata-ridden counters. Anyhow, I am still looking for the next good ACW wargame.
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