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Posted on Jun 7, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Anatomy of a Game System

By Tom DeFranco

As each unit weakens there comes a point at which it wrecks. Wreckage is critical for each unit because morale and straggler modifiers come down on it like a ton of bricks at the point of wreckage. Prior to wreckage is a good time to take a unit off the line (more on this in a later article).

So, using the unit’s current fire strength, the player consults the aforementioned chart. If the player is firing artillery, he consults another fire determination chart for that arm. After quantifying the amount of fire points and checking for any fire modifiers that may apply, the player now consults the Fire Combat Table, the Straggler Table and the Morale Table. It sounds long, but the whole process is a matter of seconds.

As a player of this system becomes more comfortable each fire phase takes less and less time (it should be understood, of course, that fire finishes much quicker in Perryville, or Champion Hill than in Gettysburg or Antietam).


There are things that are done to streamline the shooting. The first thing is to roll six (or eight, if a leader is in the hex being fired upon) dice together and consult the tables.  As each fire is resolved, the players get to see the map with their previously well thought out lines of infantry and artillery in disarray (one hopes not, but occasional adverse fire and morale effects are hard to avoid entirely). After the fire phase is a good time to sit back and take stock of what you’ve accomplished so far in the game.

That’s what this system is all about – you order your troops into combat, you move them according to the orders given, you engage in close combat and fire combat and you watch the results. You almost seem to be as much a witness to history as it unfolds, as you are a player in the drama.


Rally Phase

1) Straggler Recovery. The previously marked units for this action are tested for straggler recovery using a single chart. As stragglers are recovered, they are marked off that unit’s line on the loss chart and a wrecked unit may now become unwrecked because of positive results on this chart.

2)Rally. Units marked as shaken return to a normal morale status. Units marked as disorganized go to shaken status. Routed units roll 1d6 for recovery (a 1 or 2 result brings the routed unit to a disorganized status. Having a good leader in the hex will help the unit recover.) If the attempt fails, the unit remains routed and make sure the unit is no closer to an enemy unit than six hexes.

Note on the Rally Phase: Unlike the interactive Fire Phase, the Rally Phase refers only to the units of the phasing player.

So, we have a completed half turn of a CWB game. The non-phasing player now becomes the phasing player. When he is done with his half of the turn, the turn marker advances one half hour (one hour at night). Note that in most games, the Confederate player will be the first phasing player. The only two exceptions are Champion Hill and In Their Quiet Fields. When you look at the sequence of events in this game system you will notice that you begin with the planning phase follow with the execution phase and then clean up the situation on the mapboard. The keys in this game system are planning your defense or attack properly make sure you have contingencies in mind (although contingency orders are not allowed in the games for any given unit, a smart player will have a reserve force ready to shore up a weakening line or provide rear support to that assault you need to work so badly.)

As I mentioned in the notes to the Fire Phase above, the fun in these Civil War gaming series is watching your plans succeed, or not, with the execution of your orders. You get to see if your plan works or not. You see whether something you wanted to do is feasible, or not, and why. Of course, you are a slave to the dice as far as orders are concerned as well as combat. This is only to be expected. I’m sure that R.E. Lee would have liked to will Richard Ewell onto Cemetery Hill. I’m sure that Beauregard would have liked to kept his troops from looting, and instead, continue the attack on Grant’s men at Shiloh. And I’m sure that Rosecrans would like to have taken his orders to General Thomas Wood back, but he couldn’t. Other games on the period lack these ?what ifs’ because there are no orders and therefore the troops move around on those maps with no plans except for what the player has in his head. The CWB and RSS channel the player into doing the right thing. And while the orders writing is a key element to making the system work well, the games could just as easily be played without the orders system.

I hope that this article has moved some people who were intrigued, but daunted because of the seeming complexity of orders writing (the basic mechanics of which were described early in this article) into actually taking the plunge and buying a game in the system. Some games that are still available include No Better Place To Die (Stones River) and Champion Hill. Both are ideal starting games in the CWB. Each has few extra rules involved and little orders writing. In fact, No Better Place To Die has a couple of choice five turn scenarios that involve little, if any, orders writing. Perryville was another such contest with little orders writing, but has long been sold out.

For those so inclined, all three games of the Seven Days trilogy are still available – Gaines Mill, Seven Pines and Malvern Hill. For the RSS, there are only three games, so far: This Hallowed Ground (Gettysburg), This Terrible Sound (Chickamauga), and the recently published A Fearful Slaughter (Shiloh). Although I would start with a brigade level game first, A Fearful Slaughter is optimal for beginners because it is much smaller in comparison to the others (2 maps vs. 5 or 6) and (1,000 counters vs. over 2,000). Also, A Fearful Slaughter contains the most updated rules (not that many, but nice to have the most recent updates handy).

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