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Subject: The Battle of Iuka, September 19, 1862 rss

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"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Hollow Victory is a wargame about the American Civil War battle of Iuka featuring units at the regimental level. It was published in 2005 by Calumet Armchair Gamers.

Since there is no information about the game currently available on BGG I decided to create a quick summary of the game’s strengths and weaknesses. Hollow Victory offers an example of the best (and worst) ideas that small publishers have offered to the wargame hobby.

CAG produced what might be called a DTP game with paper maps printed in 8.5” x 11” sections and counters mounted on cardboard which must be cut apart before play. The quality of the components is similar to the rough-draft materials sent out to playtesters in the early stages of the development of a new prototype.

The entire presentation is unpolished but that shortcoming could be overlooked if the information needed to play the was presented clearly. Unfortunately, the muddy printing process and amateur graphic design could leave even the most experienced Grognard (and I have 35+ years of wargaming behind me) confused and frustrated.

In an effort to present the most positive elements of the game I will mention the rules I liked first. Hollow Victory uses a modified version of the classic SPI system from the Blue & Gray QuadriGame series. A few interesting wrinkles have been added and the CRT system is entirely different. None of these basic changes are beyond the ability of a typical wargame player to absorb. The new d10 table includes "disrupted" results (similar to the SPI Attack Effectiveness rule) which creates a foundation for units being rallied later in the battle. I also liked the multiple hex retreat possibility.

The defensive rules for artillery firing “canister” at close range when the guns are supported by infantry are good. Sadly, the rules for artillery bombardment are a quagmire of confusion. Artillery firing at long range (2, 3, or 4 hexes) uses a special Bombardment Table. The instruction booklet mentions the number of artillery units firing but a quick glance at the chart seems to indicate that the intended function of the rule is the number of strength points engaged. In addition, it is unclear how artillery units in different hexes combine to bombard an enemy formation. There are other questions.

The leader rules are also interesting. A commander can “order” units to enter an enemy zone of control during the movement phase by essentially riding along the firing line and waving his hat to encourage the troops. I like the rule that extends a general’s command radius in open terrain where the soldiers can see him or along roads where couriers can ride with fresh orders. Unfortunately, there is no stated method of indicating which units have been inspired by the presence of a general. Unless the player has the memory of an elephant a system will have to be improvised… rotating or otherwise marking the counters is an option. Like other portions of the instruction manual, the leadership rules are full of holes. One section says generals have 8 movement points, like cavalry. Another section says 6 movement points. There rules describing a leader’s role in a battle are, to put it the most charitable terms, fuzzy.

I don’t want this summary to be litany of rules problems, so we’ll move along…

The artwork on the counters is blurry and important details are poorly depicted. The tiny symbols used to indicate command assignments for the regiments might strain the eyesight of an eagle that consumes a steady diet of raw carrots. I don’t care too much about ugliness in a DTP wargame, but please give me the information I need to enjoy a session.

BTW, the fact that Hollow Victory has counters which are entirely inadequate is a damn shame because somebody really did his homework on the historical order of battle for both armies.

Iuka offers a fascinating challenge at the operational level because the Confederates under Sterling Price fought a delaying action and then conducted a planned withdrawal. The Union commander was Rosecrans and he executed one of his favorite strategic maneuvers, the concentric advance. A classic concentric advance features separate columns converging on a single enemy force. Such gambits often fail due to a lack of proper coordination between the attacking formations, and Iuka was no exception. The decision to shift the approach march of one Union division allowed the Rebels to escape along an unguarded road and unite with another Confederate force in time for the struggle at Corinth.

The map provides plenty of room for maneuver but once again a clumsy presentation detracts from the game. The primitive graphics are hard to decipher, particularly when a cardboard commander is trying to determine the difference between “forrest” (sic) and felled timber. I must repeat my first comment about the map, though. It is great to see a playing surface with enough room for the units to maneuver in broad sweeping columns.

The initial deployment of the Confederate forces is relatively clear with just one awkward phrase about a vague starting position “on the Burnsville Road” which could place the CSA regiments in a weird location beyond their own lines.

There is a major problem with the Union set up. None of the Federal forces begin the scenario on the board; the main body arrives at a road hex near the southwest corner of the map. While the instruction booklet mentions the deployment of reinforcements there are no specific rules presented. The order of march by divisions is mentioned but nothing more. Can units arrive stacked? Are they in column formation? Do all of the regiments in the force led by Rosecrans arrive at once, like a swarm of bees?

As I said earlier, this is all a damn shame. The special rules feature authentic concepts like “Acoustic Shadow” which was an atmospheric condition that prevented the sound of battle from reaching Ord in time for him to join Rosecrans. Other rules cover fatigue and green troops. The basic framework of this design is all there, ready to be professionally developed and thoroughly playtested. However, I simply can’t waste time on wargames that don’t even describe how the units of one army (in this case, the Union force) enter the game. I fooled around with some typical SPI-style rules about marching onto the board in column formation, but since the scenario instructions don’t seem to indicate who gets the first move (probably the Yankees, but I can‘t be sure) I might be doing that wrong.

Like the battle of Iuka in 1862, Hollow Victory was a missed opportunity. Did I mention that this is a damn shame?

OK, that‘s enough about this sadly disappointing title. I hope another effort is made to simulate this engagement.
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