No Better Place To Die",: The battle of Murfreesboro'
7 playings (3 Rebel wins, 2 draws, 2 Federal wins)
Review by David Southall
If you only buy 1 of The Gamers "Civil War Brigade Series" boardgames than this is it. The game is a perfect 1 map introduction to the Brigade series and in addition an exciting and informative wargaming experience.
It has an easily manageable number of units. There are 5 scenarios ranging from the initial attack to the full "2 day" battle. The inverted commas are there because history tells us that there was a 24 hour pause, during which both sides rested after the opening attacks. Of course the more bloodthirsty wargamer will try to change that. Optional rules and units are also present. This is all very well but will the player/s enjoy spending hours looking at the game as it is set up on the table?
The colourful map shows clearly the military relevant terrain upon which the battle took place. In the main it is open countryside lying between 2 rivers, there being few elevations, built up areas and little vegetation. This encourages the player towards a fluid style of play without having to constantly check the rule book to ensure that obscure terrain rules have not been overlooked. This alone is great encouragement for the gamer to start pushing cardboard around.
The unit counters show further improvements in the use of colour over earlier games in the series. The Gamers must have the best looking counters around. Their colours have been carefully chosen. It is easy to differentiate between the respective Corps and Divisions on each side. For example confederate Corps are coloured in either grey, tan or butternut and cavalry units have a thin yellow line diagonally across their front. Having set up the game the player is rewarded with a colourful yet atmospheric display of 2 cardboard armies ready to do battle in the ACW.
Counter information is clearly displayed. This clarity is helped by the fact that most relevant gaming information is contained on separate roster sheets - one for each side. These must be updated after combat to keep track of each unit's strength and morale status.
The battle makes for a good solo game. The onus of attack is upon the Rebels. They must drive from the field an encamped Federal force. The Federals must hang on to as much ground as possible. This is achieved by a careful juggling of the lower quality Federal units in order to ensure a successful defence.
The focus of the Brigade Series rules is command and control. However, a gamer new to the Series should not start out trying to assimilate the command system. Run through the movement and combat rules 1st. These are straight forward but require multiple die rolling. With the release of version 2 of the "Napoleonic Brigade Series" rules (which use similar design conventions) some of these tables have been combined to do away with some of this die rolling. It remains to be seen whether future Civil War Brigade Series games will adopt these new combat tables (of course there is nothing to stop the gamer experimenting).
The sequence of play is alternate turns each representing half an hour. The outline that follows omits the command phase. The 1st player starts by moving his/her forces according to the current orders. In this phase close combat may be initiated. This should not be undertaken unless the enemy is clearly disorganised or on the verge of rout. In fact the rules make it very difficult to enter close combat, which is historically accurate. Then the non-phasing player has a chance to carry out defensive fire, followed by the phasing player firing with surviving units. Finally the rally phase. Then roles reverse and the 2nd player becomes the phasing player.
The strength of each infantry or cavalry unit is contained on a roster sheet. Each unit has a number of strength boxes. As a unit takes losses, either from fire or stragglers, the boxes are crossed off. As these losses increase the unit is less able to inflict damage on the enemy and stand in the face of an aggressive enemy.
The game represents a unit's ability to inflict damage on the enemy by a series of fire levels. For artillery this is done with a number of "gun points" per counter. These directly translate to fire points on a table situated on the quick reference sheet. Infantry is a little more complex.
Infantry fire ability is represented alphabetically. These can range from AAA down to C. Each letter gives the unit a certain number of fire points which vary depending on range (close combat, 1 or 2 hexes). A maximum of 1 infantry A level can fire from 1 hex (the overall maximum fire from a single hex is one infantry A level and 5 artillery points). Thus there are rules for extended lines enabling the larger units (e.g.: AAA) to bring their full firepower to bear on the enemy. As a player I only seem to use extended lines for defenders and then only for units on flanks. Losses mount up so rapidly that a typical Brigades hard pressed to keep even a single A level available after a number of turns in combat.
It is possible to recover straggler points but any unit so reformed cannot be expected to be the force it was at the start. Thus Brigades can pot away for hours at 2 hex range but once brought into close proximity combat have a useful life of 1 to 2 1/2 hours. Morale loss is represented by counters showing the usual states of panic. An interesting innovation is "Bloodlust". The unit so affected will engage the nearest enemy in Close Combat. It will be impervious to morale checks unless a die roll at the end of a turn determines otherwise. These units are invaluable for breaking into an enemy line.
Now that I have described the game mechanics they may appear complex but this is not the case. After a couple of run throughs I encountered no problems. The rule book and game specific pamphlet are well written and answered all queries.
The command system involves the player actually writing down Corps orders and checking for their delivery or delay. It is possible for orders to be lost or continually questioned by subordinates. This mechanic means the game is a lot closer to the sophisticated miniatures battles that can be seen (albeit rarely). A subordinate general must carry out delayed orders even if the situation on the table has changed. This leads to Brigades making suicidal charges against solid lines as when they were expected to hit the flank of an isolated enemy unit. This goes some way towards simulating the impetuous actions of commanders which so often feature in histories of the ACW.
My only problem with the rules concerns initial pre-game orders which are provided for each scenario. For example on turn 1 in the 1st scenario a Rebel Corps has its movement points doubled to sweep down and surprise Federal forces (as it did historically).
The rules seem to suggest that pre-game orders are automatically delivered. However an acceptance roll must still be made in the 1st command phase as is normal with any orders. However if the orders are not accepted the attack does not go in on the 1st turn. This means that the Corps loses its special movement ability thus radically changing the historical basis for the scenario. I cannot seem to find a conclusive description of how pre-game orders are supposed to affect opening turns (especially when certain benefits are lost if not used that phase).
In conclusion I recommend this game. The rules portray the ebb and flow of battle in a way which echoes ACW battle histories. A possible minor flaw in the rules is revealed by reference to the roster system. Each box crossed off represents 100 casualties. A quick reckoning of losses at the end of the game will show that they will usually be much higher than battle histories record. However the ability of units to perform in combat still seems to be adequately modelled by the rules. This is more important than a minor discrepancy in casualty rates.
The player/s are forced to plan their battles carefully. It is not enough to charge towards the enemy and hope for the best. These rules emphasise the advantages of being in defence during the middle of the 19th century. Players must have a mind to breaking off combats if the component Brigades are nearing breaking point. Better to attack elsewhere than bleed a Division white so it can achieve nothing later in the game.
If this review leads you to try more of The Gamers Civil War Brigade Series games so much the better. What is more, the recently expanded and revised Napoleonic Brigade Series uses the same basic mechanics (and I understand even better counters).