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Subject: Ugly duckling or just a plain turkey? rss

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Andrew Hobley
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I got Dixie in 1976 with my fourth S&T, played the three scenarios once, and then left it. OK, new games fell through the letterbox on a regular basis and I had my school and then university exams to work on as well. Other games got replayed, not Dixie. But when I culled my game collection 20 odd years ago, Dixie survived; one of those games I felt was not rubbish and may repay more study. Many years later, and inspired by reading comments on BGG, I dug it out and tried again. I replayed each scenario, the first one twice.

Dixie says it is an examination of a modern war in the US, and also looks at a 1930’s style war, armour being small brigades as per contemporary doctrine, not big tank divisions. The units come in three types, infantry divisions, infantry corps and armoured brigades. Two divisions must combine to make a Corps if stacked together; single armour brigades can stack with one infantry unit, or another brigade. That’s it for massing your forces. The hex scale is 70 kilometres side to side, one turn is two weeks; in that time an infantry division can move around 400 kilometres 30 k per day which seems generous. You can use rail in your own territory to get unlimited movement, but have to stop at the frontier (different US/CSA railway gauges?). There are also fortress units. There are optional rules for air and naval warfare at http://grognard.com/variants1/dixie.rtf.

One key point is that only a stack of two strength points or more has a zone of control that one corps or two armoured brigades. Infantry cannot move from ZOC to ZOC; armour can. So there is no way you can build a solid defence line from 'sea to shining sea' - well, map edge - you don’t have the troops for it.

The combat result table uses the differential between the two forces. The results are expressed in loss points and range from 2/0 to 1/5 (attacker/defender). Attackers must lose a division or brigade per loss point; disrupting all units who then cannot move or attack for a turn can satisfy one loss point. Defenders can lose units, or satisfy one loss point by a one hex retreat or two by a retreat and disruption. Defenders in cities neither retreat or disrupt, they die in place.

Each side gets so many Administration Points (AP) a turn; to do anything you have to send AP and I mean anything. Move, form or break down a corps, attack, attack from more than one hex, add bonus to an attack, get reinforcements or replacements - all require APs. Reinforcements (single division or brigade) appear in friendly cities. If you lose your own cities you lose APs.

And that’s about it. You may have spotted I’ve not mentioned supply. That’s because there are no supply rules. A CSA unit could sit in Detroit with the next CSA unit in Nashville, the whole US army between them and still have plenty of food, ammo and fuel. Why? I suspect any more rules would not fit into the eight-page rulebook format. But you could easily make your own supply rule - supply phase before movement, must be 5 hexes from friendly city or trace line to same via friendly units, cut by enemy unit or ZOC; if not in supply disrupted. This will pull attacking units away from the offensive, and as you will see there may be few enough attackers anyway.

So to the games, all played solo. Scenario one, The War for Hemisphere Security, sees the USA, with slightly more forces, but fewer AP per turn, attack the CSA. The aim to seize five resource hexes (oil wells) or three CSA cities one of which must be Shreveport, Montgomery or Atlanta. First play through I was still in traditional ‘locking ZOC’ mode, and both sides set up a feeble line of divisions in the east with a bigger concentration in the west.



The USA attacked into Greater Texas and in six weeks had cleared the upper Arkansas river area. Pausing to eliminate the forts was a mistake - they don’t have ZOCs or an attacking ability. The CSA then pushed armoured brigades through an incautiously left gap and pocketed the whole invasion force!


The USA brought up reinforcements and drove back the CSA line, trying to move round the southern flank. With more APs than the US and not having to spend them to attack the South was able to continually reinforce the line. The game ended with the USA holding two resource centres and so losing.


I tried the same scenario again; this time going east of the Mississippi for the city capture victory. Pushing over the Tennessee river and past Memphis was hard work, a strike towards Atlanta through a gap in the CSA deployment was cut off
and on turn seven I gave up. The CSA could replace its losses faster than the USA could and attritional trench warfare seemed to have set in.

Scenario Two, the property war, sees the CSA strike against the north, which is nationalising property holdings. The USA has no armour in this scenario, and a much lower AP rate. No reason for this is given, unless there has been a Stalin style purge of the army high command and inefficient socialist control of industry. For this game it dawned on me that as a single division cannot stop anyone marching by, and as reinforcements appear on cities, then both sides could leave whole areas of the frontier unmanned, so as to concentrate on the battle zone. This time the CSA must control 10 US cities, one of which must be New York, Detroit, Omaha or Chicago. Putting effort to battering across the Potomac and along the east coast did not seem worth it, so the CSA planned a sweep across the mid west. The USA set up to defend the area.
The result was an out and out disaster. The US line quickly broke, the armour raced through, after 10 weeks the CSA was closing in on Chicago
and on turn six I gave up. The US could not even replace their losses, let alone mount a counter-attack.

Finally the War for Access and Free Labour. The CAS imposes high river tariffs, the southern slaves rise in revolt (so for once the south has fewer AP each turn) and the US invades. To win they need to capture New Orleans or clear the west of the Mississippi. The north chose to clear the west
. Heavy US losses in breaking over the rivers left the US assault force weak. Slowly, oh so slowly new US divisions marched down from the cities; very quickly any CSA losses were rebuilt on the very cities the US was trying to catch. Again on turn eight I gave up; the US are too far from supply and will not take the southern cities - let alone be able to deal with the CSA corps in the Louisiana swamps; remember victory is clear the west of all CSA units.


Dixie has got mixed reviews, to some it’s a classic turkey, to others a fun game. Granted playing solo may be part of the problem. But I do think that the game is badly flawed in several ways.

First the number of units is too few. OK, it had to fit into the limited counter format. But each side has a maximum of 12 corps and seven armour brigades. At 20,000 per corps and 3,000 per brigade that gives armies of 560,000. Looks big, but in the Civil War the US raised 2.1 and the CSA 1.06 million men. Germany in 1914 had 38 corps and a population of 50 million. So I think that even allowing for smaller peacetime forces, and the full force of mass mobilisation not having kicked in both armies are well under the strength they should be. This means that any sort of concentration for attack leaves whole areas of the target zone unmolested.

Secondly the stacking rules reduce the amount of force you can apply any one point. Paying extra to attack from several hexes and even more to add in attack bonus. Attack from three hexes and add two to the combat roll will cost 8 AP; the most any side gets in one turn is 50 AP - and that’s assuming you have not had to pay 12 AP to move three corps and three brigades to make the most powerful assault you can. So the attack either goes in at one or two points - easily blocked, or more feebly along the line.

The CRT does no favours. Take two corps attacking one brigade, attack differential of +5. With no die modifiers (and an AP cost of 1 AP for an attack from two hexes) the best result for the attacker will be a 1/2 result. So the attacker has to break down a corps and lose a division or disrupt all units; the defender can lose the corps, retreat one, break down and lose a division, or retreat and disrupt. The attacker now has to replace the division (2 AP) march it up (1 AP) and form a new corps (3 AP). And if they are far away from a friendly city the marching up will take couple of turns at least. This was the problem the US had in the last game, too many losses attacking corps in cities, too far from home and too long to get reinforcements down. In the second scenario the CSA does not have the same problems as it twice as many AP as the US.

And finally knowing the detailed victory conditions makes it clear how to stop a win. In the third scenario it will be clear if the US is going for the clear the west or take New Orleans win; once the CSA knows it just has to keep one unit in the right place to win. How about having VP for various objectives (so forcing both sides to guard all key points) and the aggressor side secretly picks the targets for bonus VP. That will constrain their attack, but not making it obvious if the big assault in Tennessee is a feint for the drive on the oil fields, or the real big push.

So all in all more of a turkey than an ugly duckling. But perhaps an ugly duckling that can be turned into a swan of sorts. The game has gone back on the shelf, not in the bin and one day when I have nothing better to do ... At the rate I have played this game so far tune in 2048 AD for the rewritten version! Or do it yourself and post the new rules to BGG.
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ICONOCLAST

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I thought this game was fun at the time. I think it's important to remember it was published in 1976 for a magazine (i.e. rushed development). By today's standards, many such games are sub-par. Mason-Dixon: The Second American Civil War was an update/redo in 1995, substantially more complex, but it too was for a magazine.
 
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Kim Meints
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I thought it fun also.still do. heck,I got extra copies and combined the units and made new ones for a Indian Nation and the Western States Nation. Add to that the S&T variant that came out a couple of years ago adding in Intervention troops and it still plays nice.Yes it wasn't the best at the time and the game glut was bad even then but still it fits for a small,fast playing game when wanting something easy.

But I sure did enjoy the review and short AAR's on the scenario's played. Nice to see the old gal get played even if she's just plain looking at the dance.
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michael confoy
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If I had known anyone would have cared about this game 36 years later, I would not have thrown it in the trash after a few times playing it. But then, given the lame idea combined with the usual lack of SPI play testing, who would have thunk?
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Joe Preiser
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papahoth wrote:
If I had known anyone would have cared about this game 36 years later, I would not have thrown it in the trash after a few times playing it. But then, given the lame idea combined with the usual lack of SPI play testing, who would have thunk?


Wow! A negative comment about SPI?
Given how people usually gush about them you'd think that would be the ultimate blasphemy.
I agree though. It was a clumsy game at best.yuk
 
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