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Posted on Aug 24, 2006 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Savannah – Boardgame Review

By Johnny L. Wilson

Pulaski Your Punch (Game Play)

The bulk of play in Great Battles of the American Revolution: Volume IV: Savannah follows, as one would expect, the basics of the Series Rulebook for the other Great Battles of the American Revolution games. The advantage to this is obvious. An aficionado of the period being simulated can be up and firing in one of the series games in a significantly shorter period than if there were new rules on movement and combat. This series works, as do most GMT series games, because the rules are primarily additive—extending the types of combat and situations that can be simulated.

Scouting Report for Those Who Have Not Played This Series
(Veterans Should Skip)

For those who have not yet played a Great Battles of the American Revolution game, I will summarize the system as combining some of the most familiar features of both hex-based and miniatures wargaming. Movement and zones of control are determined via hexes. Set-up is determined via hexes. Line of sight is delineated from center of a hex to center of a hex. Yet, combat results seem more akin to miniatures battles because of the number of damage and situation chits required to be added to stacks of units.


In pure game play terms, this is annoying because (particularly in the tactical portion of this game and wherever the fighting is heaviest in the other games), the map quickly becomes cluttered with stacks of counters best moved with tweezers than my fat fingers. In simulation terms, this is very good because victory was often more dependent upon morale than a pure casualty count in this era. So, units that are “pinned” find themselves able to move, but primarily away from the enemy (not being able to end their turn adjacent to an enemy unit). Units that are “disrupted” display the confusion by only being able to move one hex during the turn and, since they are not organized enough to prosecute an attack, they cannot end their turn adjacent to an enemy unit, either. Units that are “shattered” simply cannot move.

Since most unmodified combat results have a base 30% to 60% chance of incurring a result requiring the use of one of these markers and the modified results range from 31% to 46% chance of needing such a marker, you can bet that your map can soon be filled with overflowing piles. Note that additional disruptions create “shattered” units, further adding to the clogged nature of the board. It makes one wish that GMT had used the larger 5/8” counter size of Roads to Leningrad rather than the smaller, de facto 3/8” size.

JAM Replaying Georgia’s most famous battle from the War for American Independence will likely result in traffic jams and piles of counters. The results are both realistic and enlightening. Playing is slowed by counter/marker manipulation.

To me, the best parts of the Great Battles of the American Revolution combat system are the use of “Tactics Chits,” “Momentum chits,” and diversionary attacks. The use of the “Tactics” and “Momentum” chits is optional (advanced rules), but such deployment makes the close combat significantly more interesting. With the former, each player gets a set of “Tactics Chits” at the beginning of the game. Prior to each combat, the attacker selects a tactic secretly as the defender does likewise. The tactics are compared on the Tactical Matrix (provided on the Player Aid Card) and provide an appropriate die roll modifier (which is further enhanced if one’s opponent deploys a chit illegally).

The “Momentum” chits are assigned at the beginning of the game and can be earned whenever the result of a Close Combat die roll is –1 or less. These chits are incredibly valuable, especially for those of us who feel that we need just “average” dice in order to win certain games. If one spends a chit before the Initiative die roll, +2 is added to the roll. That can be pivotal when you absolutely, positively have to move first, BUT the best use of these chits is to spend them to allow the re-roll of one Close Combat resolution die roll. AND, you can even hoard them so that you can use more than one of them in the same Close Combat resolution (wicked, but true as per Rule 12.62, bullet point 1).

The last distinction of this system is so true to the era that it’s truly elegant. As opposed to the old Avalon Hill classic approach where you would be forced to attack everything in your zone of control (ZOC—the hexes immediately surrounding your hex unless negated by woods, houses, rivers, or streams in the adjoining hexes) and you would have to plan at least one “soak-off” attack where you would sacrifice a portion of your units at an extremely unfavorable set of odds while attacking the rest at a reasonable set of odds, the Great Battles of the American Revolution series uses diversionary attacks. You just have to attack some adjacent enemy so that the enemy units adjacent to your main attack are distracted. Although this can only be done one time per Close Combat phase, it can be vital. In this way, you do not have to attack a well-defended position because you have given them a “diversion.” Then, instead of actually losing units in the old AH “soak-off” attack, you penalize yourself by shifting the column on the combat resolution table to the one to the left (one column less favorable for you). The odds aren’t quite as good where you actually attack, but they are considerably better than having to go against a better defended and fortified position.

Isn’t This Special? (Savannah Distinctives)

Of course, the advantage of a series game is that the rules should be familiar enough that you can fight different battles without having to learn entirely new rules sets. This disadvantage could be that there isn’t enough distinctive about each game that you find that you’ve “been there” and “fought that.” Great Battles of the American Revolution: Volume IV: Savannah does not have that problem. Oh, to be sure, if you merely play the tactical portion of the game and don’t bother with the strategic game, it will have a “used” and “claustrophobic” feel to it. After all, you’re only using the bottom right corner of the map and there isn’t a lot of room for movement.

However, not only does the strategic game introduce the idea of Random Events (in the procedure described above), but it offers a number of other special rules and mechanics that truly simulate the historical situation. First, since there are three different army organizations represented (French, American, and British), there are some special rules concerning the way the two former armies work together. Command control issues were somewhat sticky. So, even though French and Continental/Rebel Militia units can stack together in the event of a retreat, they cannot attack together until they are separated. (There is an exception, but with a –2 die roll modifier, you won’t want it!) into different hexes. Second, the French Regulars are stand-offish with regard to the French Militias. Class differences will out, so while the regulars will allow the “hoi polloi” of the militias to pass through their better class ranks, they will not stack with them (except in the event of a retreat).

With regard to the latter, the British face the race issue. If the Negro Volunteers should need to pass through or stack with any southern unit, said British unit allows these volunteers to be captured rather than stacking with or operating with them. Sort of foreshadows certain attitudes in many subsequent wars, doesn’t it? (If you don’t believe me about continuing discrimination, check out Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s jarring account of discrimination against World War II’s 761st Tank Battalion in his Brothers in Arms ).

PARTIAL POST When playing the full campaign game, units enter in a trickle—turn-by-day as they did in the days leading up to the Battle of Savannah. Some of us enjoy this logistical challenge and solid historical basis, others prefer set-piece battles.

To be true to the historical situation (after all, weather was a primary consideration in many of d’Estaing’s decisions), weather is considerably more important in this volume than in the previous games of the series. Not only does the die modifier favor steady deterioration, but all modifiers are cumulative. And, once bad weather is there, it holds until a good die roll occurs. However, the rules present a deus ex machina. IF the Allied player waits until the historical Turn 16 to declare his attack, the weather will, by default, feature fog on Turn 16 and be favorable throughout the tactical turn. If the Allied player decides to advance the timetable, however, the weather will stay as it was on the last turn where weather was determined.

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