Bunker Hill (XTR)
Playings, 2 (3hours), British wins.
Having left the magazine games alone for a while I was suitably tempted to try out Bunker Hill and On To Moscow based on their gaming ancestry and uncommon subject matter. Bunker Hill is a reworking of Hougemont, allegedly demanded because there were no Americans at Waterloo which did not please the home market. Hougemont was an interesting little game which suffered from much the same thing happening each time, the French attacked, took huge losses and drove the British back. If they could get into and stay into the farm compound they had won. A pleasant map and stunning counter art (for its time) ensured a place in the hold pile.
Bunker Hill keeps to the general course of play from Hougemont except that the British are now the bad guys. The map and counters are a slide backwards because XTR have decided to adapt the terrain to lie along hexsides rather than run through it. With a map consisting largely of walls and fortified lines the hexagons glare out at you. Counters have been upsized from 1/2" to 5/8" which may not seem a lot but fills up the hexes so that when long lines are formed (and they will be) counters elbow each other out of the hexes.
Movement is the key or otherwise to the game system, an infantry unit can fire at any time in its move by paying 6 movement points. Colonists have 12 points so can fire twice if they do not move. British start with 8 but have an option to increase to 12 if they discard their packs late in the game. One side moves a stack or single piece at a time firing as necessary but whenever that unit comes within a range of 6 of an enemy piece the enemy can react. Reaction is handled as a bonus move up to the reacting unit's movement allowance with the restriction that each stack can only react once per turn. Reactions can be move and fire except that any movement must be away from the unit which caused the reaction. The system encourages any unit receiving fire to fire back before it is fired on, any advances or retreats from a close-by unit will bring down a hail of fire. It is possible to have more to do in the opponent's turn than your own.
So far so good, the British have to attack an enemy which is dug in behind walls and bunkers. Luckily the Colonials have 2 big problems. Command control divides the rebels into 3 commands and a limited number of independent units. To move a unit must be stacked with or adjacent to a relevant commander. If stacked with or adjacent to the wrong commander it must roll a 1-3 to be in command. If a unit is deemed to be out of command it may still fire in its own turn or by reaction but may not move even as a reaction. Judicious use of leaders should shore up the line where necessary but the big rebel problem is lack of ammunition. Each infantry unit has a morale value, usually 2 or 3, every time a unit fires and a 2nd die roll is higher than the morale roll then the unit takes a step loss as a result of lack of ammo. Many units are 2 step but the reverse will have an even lower morale value and impaired shooting ability to boot. Units removed as a result of lack of ammunition are not dead but have run back to the mainland, never the less they are not going to be coming back during this battle. The result is that any rebel unit is good for 2 or 3 shots at most and had better save them until it has the best chance of doing some damage, at 1 hex range.
The British may not be able to fire so often and are also penalised by terrain for firing when the rebels are not. The game assumes that colonial boys will take cover behind walls and the like but that regulars will regularly march over them. Firing is based on the stacking value of the defender modified by range (which in turn is terrain influenced) and the attacker's fire modifier (usually 0). Score equal or less to the result and a step is lost. By sidling up to 1 or 2 hexes depending on terrain range modifiers can be pulled down to 0 (excepting bunkers which are a pain to fire into), giving stacking value as the number to hit for a kill. Single colonists are usually 2 (1 on reverse) as are British troops. So if the British sidle up to 1 or 2 hexes and pound away the colonists will either have to return fire and risk having the boys slink off home or take their medicine. Colonists can stack and rotate units the take step losses to the bottom of the stack hence maintaining their rate of fire (only the top unit in any stack can fire) but at a risk of taking more fire hits.
The game notes assume that the British will move up in big stacks which will guarantee a step loss every time they are fired at. Movement rules encourage use of stacks by forcing a unit to pay 2 extra movement points when it comes adjacent to any other unit plus paying the stacking value of any unit it moves through in addition to any terrain costs. The British can zip along in stacks outside the colonists range but there is little incentive to do so close in, with guaranteed casualties each time the colonists open up. By moving the end unit in any line first and working along the 1st unit to move will pay no extra points for moving adjacent to other units. All following units will pay just 2 extra as they close up on the line at its new position, when the line finally gets adjacent to the target everyone will have to pay an additional 2 points. This does slow movement but there are plenty of game turns for the British to form a line and sidle up to the rebel position. A hidden advantage is that all units block lines of sight so with a line in position all units to the rear will be immune from fire and can stay in stacks.
The geography of set up has a decent line of rebels along 2/3rds of the map width but a patchy defence in the town of Charlestown which covers the remaining 1/3rd. Colonial movement restrictions will prevent an edge to edge line being formed before the British reach the edge of Charlestown. When the British get into favourable positions they can exchange fire to their hearts content, even if a 1or 2 is needed for a hit they can rest assured that the rebs cannot keep up an equal rate of fire. While the colonists can fire twice to British once, that rate of fire carries a high risk of ammunition depletion and the rebel line disappearing before it is even shot at. When a line gets close enough to rebel positions it can react fire to any colonist that moves or fires, compensating for the low British rate of fire.
If the British are rash enough to assault hexes in stacks they will be sure to lose a step from fire (as any highly stacked units will do) but are almost certain to see the rest of the stack head to the rear (or re-organisation box) from a pre-assault fire rule which allows the rebels to wait until the British are at point blank range before firing. The obvious solution is to assault with single units, assault is based on morale, stack size and a D6 roll, with a single unit on each side stack size will not be relevant and the British benefit from an average superiority of 2 in morale over the colonial boys. Some British units will go down in the assault but there is every chance of the point blank fire depleting or eliminating the firer leading to a lower morale rating and easier combat or a straight walk into the hex. It is often beneficial for the defender to not fire before assault because a slim chance of winning the assault roll will remove the British unit at no cost to the rebel. Rebel units cannot assault so any thought of heroic counterattacks is crushed.
As if they were not doing well enough the British gain an advantage from the Naval shelling of the bridge which connects Bunker Hill with the mainland. To cross this bridge (towards the battle not running away) all colonist units have to equal or roll under their morale value. 2 is a common value so many colonist units will never cross this bridge. 2 guns start on the wrong side of the bridge, 1 has a value of 0 so will never see any fighting and the other rates 1 and has little better chance. More the pity because colonist units that are adjacent to guns that fire are immune from the dreaded ammunition depletion rules. Only 1 gun begins on the map and that is not allowed to fire from the bunker strongpoint, even so it can be placed in a position from which it can fire to allow a massive 2 units to fire without worrying about ammunition supply. The British has loads of guns but they all have a 50% chance of getting stuck when they pass through a marsh (which they must if they are to get into action). Also they are restricted to firing grape which has no effect on units in buildings or behind walls, which rebel units usually are. Luckily the British can do without their guns because it is a lucky British gunner who gets a shot off.
With no idiot rules to hamper the British but command control and ammunition curbs to hamper the British assault on the rebel positions becomes an exercise in weedling them out and then huntin' and shootin' as the colonists head back to the mainland. Bunker Hill is connected to the mainland by a single bridge which may appear easy to defend but with the colonists rubbish melee ability it is not. The British gain victory points for capturing this Bridge and the rebel redoubt on Breeds Hill (centre of the rebel line) which is extremely hard to take front on but given time can be weedled out from behind. The rebels gain points for destroying large numbers of British units, given intelligent use of lines he will not be doing this.. There is some consolation that the British are unlikely to earn points for exciting more units than the colonists off the rebel map edge because vast numbers of rebels will have run away before the British make it that far. By using skirmish lines and satellite reconnaissance to spot exactly which walls the rebs are or are not hiding behind the British can turn the Bunker Hill peninsular into 1 big prison camp for the colonists. This is a shame because the basic system works and is easy to pick up, it is the special rules which let Bunker Hill down.