Across 5 Aprils (Victory)
Playings 5 (1st Bull Run, Shiloh, 2nd Bull Run), 11 hours
If you want the 2nd Bull Run scenario it is on the ZOCo web site or you can send me 50p and a stamp to cover my costs and I will print out the counters and set up rules.
I have finally got around to Across 5 Aprils having bought it outside the MBG auction. This is a game that some rave about and others are unimpressed. I had a letter from Mike Siggins way back in 1993 that stated the game was no more than an old quad system with the addition of activation chits. Blue and Grey still attracts interest as a collectable and is even played so this is not necessarily an adverse criticism to some.
I played 1st Bull Run, Shiloh (twice) and my own 2nd Bull Run twice and phoned ACW fan Tim Cockitt for independent advice. He suggested against my plans to change the system to my own view of reality and confirmed my opinion that there is one full size game here (Gettysberg) the folio Shiloh and 3 fillers in decreasing size Pea Ridge, 1st Bull Run and Bentonville. The Bull Run map is way too large clearly being designed for the 2nd battle that you do not get in the box. I can see the appeal of the pack is to the games player rather than the simulationist as decisions need to be made before the dice are rolled. Units are divided into commands that move when their chit is picked and combat only occurs when the combat chits are pulled, one for each side. I found 1st Bull Run had too few units on the folio map to prompt the system. Shiloh was interesting on day 1 but one-sided if it goes to the next day as the CSA have a combat bonus on the 1st day and the USA on the 2nd. The Rebs have a good chance by going all out and trying for an all out win on day 1. With new USA troops and at a disadvantage on day 2 the Reb starts to run out of units. I have not punched the main game (Gettysberg) as I have been trying the system out on 2nd Bull Run, which is long and a blood bath, as it should be.
Combat is the crux of the system, adjacent units must attack or can pull back ignoring enemy ZOCs with the defender able to advance into the 1st vacated hex. Both sides roll a die for combat but on average most attacks will be 2:1 or worse, you can still go wrong at 3:1 and might succeed at 1:2. All results are in step losses (most units start as 2-steppers) or retreats and step losses, there are no retreats without loss unless you pull out before the die is rolled. One attacking unit can advance after combat but this is not always advisable as that single unit is vulnerable to counterattacks. A unit that leaves an enemy ZOC cannot enter another one in the same turn (except to retreat before combat) limiting the subsequent mobility of those advancing units. Given the relatively low combat odds aggressive players will be creating a lot of dead units in this game and cautious players will not be attacking much at all.
The retreat before combat ploy is tempting but limited as every unit adjacent to the target hex must retreat. So in a line of attacks any retreat from bad odds is likely to reduce the odds at neighbouring hexes. The alternative is to work with one bad odds attack at the end of the line risking an elimination. The whole combat set up is thrown askew by the random combat chits. You can set up for a decent attack then have the defender move in adjacent and see those odds plummit. When the desired combat chit then turns up it has to be used for withdrawals. With a bit of luck you can gang up on isolated units but if the combat chit does not turn up sharpish other enemy units will be sucked into the combat making it less than viable and forcing a withdrawal. Units can move in at poor odds with no intention of fighting but hoping that the enemy combat chit will turn up and he will bottle out. Often the opposition's combat chit can be more useful than your own. He can be forced into refusing bad odds attacks and then you get a free advance into the hex. A lot of back and forth action ensures particularly around victory hexes that may be suicidal to assault but by moving up and waiting you get to go in free. To win rather than draw you are going to have to roll some dice and are unlikely to get away without losses on both sides. It helps to have 2 step units left in the combat so whatever the result there is someone left to hold the line. As the game goes on there will be less units to spare and the victory may go to the side with most spare troops in the right place (fustest with the mostest) giving the right result from decidedly gamey mechanisms.
The game system is ideal for solitaire as the chits prevent any clever planning. You can also experiment with cautious or bloody strategies although if both sides are cautious the game will be a draw. On the other hand this is not the sort of game to play against the player who likes to think out every move as the combat or withdraw permutations may cause him to lock up. The simulation of combat can also be off-putting as the lines move back and forth over some 600 metres of 2 hexes when in reality they could both sit still and have skirmishers take pot shots at each other. Again the number of dead units can be way too high and we have to go back to thinking of these as broken units heading for the rear as in the old quad games. The final thought is if the system is worth adapting for all those other Blue and Grey type games. I do not think it worthwhile for those that are already simulated in Across 5 Aprils but it could easily be done for the other SPI quads. You would need to make up command chits and sort out the counters into groups. This would require some OOB work and either good counter reading or marking those rare game counters with their commands - probably only viable if you have an unpunched set to photocopy and mark. The new Decision games tend to represent smaller battles but the Atlanta and Oulstree counters are partly command marked. Very helpful but these small battles are the least successful in Across 5 Aprils making the exercise in conversion relatively easy but not adding a lot to the games (in my case these are all unpunched).