Playings; 3. Campaign, 15 hours, CSA win.
1861 (west), 4 hours, CSA win. 1862 (west) USA win.
Before starting this article, I must say that in all playings he errata in Boardgames Journal 3 was used, it is recommended that any owners of BaBe get hold of this because it clears up quite a few vague areas although not all of them. I dare not challenge the copyright people by reprinting what is in BJ 3. Still the relevant bit is only about 4 pages long, if you have the game but not this errata drop me a few a coppers and I will see what I can do. Secondly it must be said that despite what FGA or anyone else says, this is not a remake of "War Between the States", I have read a review of same in "Games & Puzzles", Spring '79 and all these 2 have in common is the same map size.
What follows is not really a review, rather a sort of sticking plaster to patch up some of its mechanisms, together with the errata in BG 3 this is the way I have been playing BaBe. If this were a throwaway magazine game, a swift list of the faults would be all thats needed but BaBe is darned expensive from UK dealers so deserves a little more. Anyone who has paid full whack for this can save a few tears and make the game work with a few changes, although it is a lot of dosh if thought of as a few maps and counters. FGA have been selling off the game at well below published price, it is well worth having at a discounted price or if it can be got hold of 2nd hand, it is not worth £35. It seems like FGA put too much of the development budget into the game size rather than rules and scenarios, the lack of any shorter scenarios forced me to write my own (last resort time). My first reaction on sifting through the 3 maps, charts and 960 counters of BaBe was, where the hell are the rules? I had the rules booklet but over half of this is the historical commentary, the rules per se are only slightly more complex than in "A House Divided". This in itself is no bad thing, although those used to the "monster game = monster rules" idea will be disappointed. BaBe's rule system is indeed simple but this being simulation gamesland not without problems, hence the errata and the rules suggestions included herein. All counters except the leaders are of the strength point variety, despite the
number of these it is likely that there will not be enough of a given type, the CSN is particularly poorly done to. I have been hiding units of the right number but wrong type at the bottom of stacks. The game uses weekly turns, each stack may perform 2 actions in each turn, when all have done so production points are used to buy new units and every other turn a (random) new leader is drawn from the pile of unchosen leaders. Having to work out production every turn breaks the flow of the map game, so I took to quadrupling all production values and settling up at the end of every month. Even so a good hour should be allowed for every month of game time. The game only includes 1 scenario, the USA starting with 6 infantry and the CSA with 5 and a leader, there are also a few forts and the odd fleet in play. Victory is by raising or lowering CSA morale until 1 side or the other throws in the towel. Morale goes up or down 1 for winning a battle (the most frequent variable), control of Missouri and Kentucky, plus bigger bonuses for capturing production cities (the CSA has 5, USA 6). If neither side withdraws during a battle, it is treated as a draw. Having more men the USA can fight battles that appear to be disasters but by holding on to the end of combat, can avoid the morale penalty of a defeat. I know many civil war leaders were political generals but this is stretching a point. Instead consider the side that has lost the greatest % casualties to be the loser if neither side withdraws. The easiest way for the CSA to gain morale is to place an army next to Washington, netting 2 points every turn that it is there (note that this did not do Jubal Early much good). This needs to be stopped early on by the union placing garrisons south of Washington, on the rebel side of the Potomac, exactly what Scott did in the Civil War. Play proceeds with the player rolling the higher on a die having the initiative and taking the 1st action, next the other side gets a go and so on until all units have used up to 2 actions. If a player declines an action he must sit the turn out, in other words you cannot wait until the other side has acted before you react, although a little discretion in which units are moved 1st can help. An action can be movement, combat, digging in, recce (cavalry examining enemy stacks) and burning production cities (1864/5 only). A naval unit can only move once or fight once or do 1 of each, not move 2x and so forth. No unit may attack the same enemy unit 2x in the same turn. Troops may move by rail, counting as 2 actions, up to 60 hexes, for a number of units based on 15% of production, 15 to 30 ish units. Well 1 short paragraph has covered most of what is needed to play the game, now to look at how it plays and to change the way it plays in certain areas. For a start to perform any action except rail movement a land unit must be part of an army or independent force (IF), with each side allowed a maximum of 10 for the 3 maps in play the game resembles rattling peas around in a bucket. Of course we also have garrisons, troops being railroaded to the front and naval stacks but even so this is no wall to wall counter job, it does not help that the CSA is so damn big, vast chunks of its centre will not be touched by the war, unless things go real bad.
I suggest allowing leaderless stacks to move 1 action only and only within the original CSA or USA borders. IF's are stacks containing a single leader, armies contain at least 1 but may have 1 commander and 3 to 7 corps commanders depending on the army in question. The size of an army in SP's is determined by the rank of the commander, * to ****, and that of any corp commanders, only 2 leaders are drawn a month, always at the lowest level so it will take a while to build up leaders good enough for big stacks. 16 SP's is the most a * leader can handle on his own, the army of the Potomac can be built up 450 SP's although it is unlikely to approach this size in play. Of course in simulation terms this idea is all bull, another means justifying the end job, however it does force the players to take time to build up armies. It is an abstraction of organisation, equiping and training. SP's left in garrisons are next to useless when the big armies come along, being quickly squashed unless reinforced at the end of every turn.
Next up is combat, the familiar CRT is absent instead we get a pile of chits and a track from -10 to 20. The chits are picked to influence combat, much as in "Caesar's Legions", screen right and so forth, the chits that can be picked depend on the total leader ratings in the force, the higher the juicier chits that can be picked. I don't care for this system, it is impossible to play solitaire and encourages poker skills among the players (I am more of a backgammon type). Instead total up the leader ratings for each army and subtract the attacker from the defender, this gives much the same result but is less random. Leaders range from 0 (I could think of a few -'s but even Butler is a 0 here) to 5 for Lee and Grant, the vast majority are 1's.
Anyhow a D10 is rolled, modified for terrain, leaders and naval forces to give a % loss for each side. It is at this point that everything starts to fall apart, if all modifiers cancel out, the damage can vary from 1% to 3 1/2% of the force, OK if forces are well over 50 SP's strong but what is 3 1/2 % of 20 (rounded up)? ... pause ... 1 (correct) and what is 1% of 20 (RU), 1 again, so why bother rolling the D10. The most that can result is 15%, for a hefty 3 SP loss, if the rules are played as read and there are no net modifiers, players need roll only to end the rounds and then each remove the same number of SP's. Combat continues for a number of rounds, until 1 side elects to withdraw or a 10 is rolled on a D10, 1 is added to the roll at the end of each round up to a maximum of 7 rounds. BULL, says I, here is a new rule to change the system, plus a 2nd to make up for the new rule greatly increasing battle casualties.
(1) Losses are expressed as a % of the force strength, as shown on the track but for forces below 50 SP's the % damage is increased as follows:
20 - 50 X 2.
10 - 19 X 3
up to 9 X 4
2) Parole, 1 in 3 of all dead SP's are returned to the map as reinforcements at the end of every month. Round fractions down, any surplus are lost, not carried over. SP's are returned as militia, regardless of what they used to be (cavalry, line). This is really bit generous for paroled POW's, think of it as POW,s, deserters being found, the sweepings of jails and so on. I have played the new combat with and without parole and can safely say that the CSA is in deep trouble without it.
Having fixed up combat, the next iffy bit is the naval rules. After a while the CSN will be out produced by the USN, until then there can be quite a bit of naval action, also naval units may affect the action on land. According to the rules, a naval unit cannot move adjacent to a land unit on a river bank but can on the coast, yet they can move past a river fort. As the rule stands, putting a unit in the fort should stop the fleet dead. Also fleets can bombard forts and armies, presumably only those on the coast, they can destroy forts and inflict a hefty + or - on land combats. Why are coastal forts (Sumter) and armies so much more exposed than the same by the riverbank (Island no' 10)? Confused by all this I took the last resort and read up the conflict, then changed the rules.
(1) land forces have no effect on the movement of fleets unless they occupy a fort. If so the fleet must stop and attack the fort as in a naval combat, or run past the fort and accept 1 free attack by the fort, treat the fleet strength as 0.
(2) For each difference in naval points in a naval combat above 5, subtract 1 from the die roll.
(3) Fleets may move adjacent to land units and bombard them, it is possible for opposing fleets to take part in the same land combat. The total modifier caused by the presence of fleets in a land combat may not exceed + or -3. this is to simulate the cunning technique of moving slightly away from the river when the boats turn up. Note that a fleet may either lend aid to a land combat or attack a fortification in a hex (by naval combat, ignoring the garrison) in an action. Each costs 1 action, both can be used in a turn but neither can be performed twice.
Last under the hammer comes production, with very few production cities the actual level of points to spend will not vary much in any year. There is a slight reduction in CSA levels for the USN blockading southern ports and a steady increase for everyone each year. The only problem is that certain things are a much better buy than others, a militia SP can be upgraded to line for the same cost as a new militia SP, the line units only confer a + or - 1 in combat, so why bother. Ironclads are a real money eater, 135 for the CSA as opposed to 45 for a river gunboat and 5 for a SP. The ironclad fights as 2 naval points, so why not buy 3 gunboats instead. It is not clear what FGA mean by an ironclad, they definitely mean Merrimac and Monitor but may not include the turtles on the Mississippi, being a simple soul I have assumed that if the natives called them ironclads in the 1860's then that is what they are. In that case the western jobs are ironclads but a very poor buy, so try this new rule:
No ironclad may be damaged by any force that does not contain another ironclad. If the ironclad stack is smaller than the (non - ironclad) enemy, the ironclad has 1 attack on the + 2 column of the naval CRT. The other force attacks in the usual way but may only harm non - ironclad units.
To build anything not only production points have to be spent but the sides manpower levels are also reduced. The USA has a total of 2080 without resorting to the draft, 1120 more, the CSA can summon up 975 and 525 respectively. This clearly means that a CSA that does not win a moral victory in the 1st year or 2 is in trouble. Calling up a draft worsens morale but the CSA at least will have to, if the CSA only buys infantry SP's his voluntary manpower will last a little over 4 months at full production. This encourages the CSA to go for low manpower builds, gunboats, forts and cavalry. A level 1 fort is a waste of space but should be treated as a downpayment on the level 6, a tempting 20 naval SP equivalent and +/- 5 in combat, all for 420 points out of a total of 122 CSA points a week. The USA starts at 180 SP's a week so the CSA will have difficulty winning the arms race.
A good plan for the CSA is threaten Washington, if the USA has not garrisoned the hexes near it, or to try and capture 1 of the USA production cities. St. Louis is hard to get but if taken its position on the river makes it hard for the Union to assault, Baltimore is an alternative, it will stretch the USA protecting that and Washington. The moral track climbs 1 point towards CSA victory each turn that the Union does not fight a battle, so the USA cannot just leave the Confederacy alone. Kentucky is a good place to attack, it will remain neutral until 1864 unless someone invades it, providing a huge buffer for the central CSA. The USA should invade here as soon as the troops can be spared, the few extra SP's that the rebs will get are outweighed by the threat to the central CSA, Nashville (a production city) is only just over the border. The CSA must act aggressively to win, he can win by sitting it out until 1865 but the sheer length of the game means that it will probably be called off as a draw long before that point. It is the playing time of the game that lets it down, BG no' 3 includes 1862 and 1863 set ups although to play these to the end could take a long time, certainly by 1863 the chance of an instant CSA win is remote, so a game starting in 1861 could be quicker. There are no short term victory conditions although 3 months play is about right for a long evening, if you get fed up look up the actual positions at that time in some weighty tome to see who has the edge. Note that I have done this already in the scenarios that follow, apart from the capture of the odd port not much will happen in the east, look to the west for any serious movement. I did start planning an 1861 in the east game but apart from the USA takeover of West Virginia not a lot went on. The USA raised an army, marched south, fought a battle, draw, retreated and sat the year out on the Potomac, what a game.