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Posted on Sep 18, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Monmouth Review

By Larry Levandowski

Passed Inspection: Well rounded rule-set really gives feel for warfare during the American Revolution.

Failed Basic: Counter management can be a little rough, as some stacks become very large.

On a very hot July day in 1778, after being on the defensive for two years, the Continental Army, under George Washington, struck at the rear of Henry Clinton’s British Army, as it moved from Philadelphia to New York. The focus of the fight, Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey, would see the longest battle of the American Revolution. It would also be, one of the very few battles, where the American army, held their ground against British Regulars. It is this battle that is now the subject of GMT Games fifth volume in the Battles of the American Revolution series. The spirit and intensity of this long running, and sometimes chaotic fight, are captured wonderfully within the mechanics and layout of this Mark Miklos’ design. Monmouth depicts the battle in a fairly fast playing game, with medium level complexity. While the game is certainly accessible by all levels of players, it will best be enjoyed by those with some experience under their belt. For anyone with an interest in the American Revolution, this game is highly recommended.

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Monmouth the battle was not the typical set-piece affair where the two sides lined up on opposite sides of a field. The battle opened, when the relatively small American advanced corps, caught up with the slow moving British rear guard. When the British column turned to counter-attack, the Continentals began a spontaneous and confused withdraw. As the morning moved to noon, the American General Lee, who did not have confidence that the Continental Army could stand toe-to-to with British regulars, did nothing to stop the chaotic retreat. Finally, when General Washington arrived, he quickly relieved Lee of command, and with the personal force of his leadership, organized the defense. As both sides fed more troops into the battle, the fighting became intense. But by the end of that hot day, the Americans held the field, pulling a strategic draw out of what could have been a disaster.

Monmouth the game comes with two rule sets. One for the game series and the other with rules specific to the battle itself. Setup and gameplay are fairly fast, and a full 14-turn game can be completed in a long afternoon. There are also three shorter scenarios for players who only want to spend a few hours. The basic structure of the game is pretty standard for a board-based wargame; zones of control, odds based combat resolution, and step loss. The board is based on a 200 yard hex, with 16 terrain types, affecting both combat and movement. Each unit in the game represents a battery or regiment, rated for number and quality of troops. Commander units are also present, and as in real life, they can turn victory into defeat. But GMT’s American Revolution series adds several other concepts that make it stand out from its stock wargame brethren.

Mark Miklos’ rules not only convey the nuts and bolts of the Battle of Monmouth, but also the spirit of warfare in the age of the black-powder musket. Army morale is tracked, and it changes with the army’s fortunes on the field. If morale goes low, the player will find his units becoming more brittle. The player also gains momentum chips when critical outcomes really go his way. These chips can be cashed in, to cause re-rolls, or add dice modifiers. Far from being gimmicky, this rule really gives one the feel that success builds impetus, and for the other side, makes pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat, a very difficult thing. Close combat is fought by players selecting tactics, like frontal assault, attack in echelon, or refuse the flank. The presence of leaders allow a broader range of tactics that a player can choose. While the game does not keep track of unit facing, some provision for open flanks allows for modeling this aspect. Artillery units only fire during the enemy’s turn, meaning that using guns on the attack takes preparation. Finally, American backwoodsmen and Hessian jaegers have rifled muskets, and can use a special fire phase to disrupt units without actually engaging them.

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