Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Battle of Sample Hollow: The Game

The battle played out in just under an hour, which is great considering it went over ten turns.  Part of the reason for the quick play was that it quickly became a shooting match, with both sides blazing away at each other, waiting for the other guys to break.  it turns out that a 2' wide board was too small for any real maneuver to take place.  Black Powder was written with movement in mind.  At one point, the Confederates could have sealed a victory with a bold flanking march, but they would have had to leave the table to do so.  Oh, well, live and learn.  That's why we playtest.

Through that whole game, I did not make a single initiative move.  Part of that comes from my unfamiliarity with the rules.  I was uncertain when a unit was sufficiently softened to make a charge.  More experience should change that.  

I used the command rules as written, despite my misgivings about apparently illogical results.  As it turns out, they were ill-founded, as troops moved (or didn't) based on dice rolls.  I had thought that a Command Value of 8 would result in a lot of stubborn units.  As it turned out, units were just pokey enough to make the game fun.  Score one for the rules as written.

Anyhow, on the first turn, the Confederate left surged ahead to point blank range, while the right advanced at a more leisurely pace.  The Confederate artillery and reserve refused to advance, and they would hold their position for over four turns before joining the battle!  The Union line was disordered by the onslaught.  Despite their casualties, they managed to hold, and a firefight ensued. 

Despite having the support of the artillery, the unit on the Union left (the 24th MA) went shaken and had to retire.  Fortunately, the Union reserve, the 2nd RI, was able to take its place in the line with a minimum of disruption.  The battered boys from the Bay State became the new reserve, but they were in such bad shape that they played no further role in the battle.  Meanwhile, the 57th PA on the Union right stood their ground, trading shots with the equally resilient Virginians they faced at close range.  Meanwhile, the Confederate artillery deployed to counter the closer of the two Union artillery sections.  From this point on, the artillery effective neutralized each other.

The Pennsylvanians finally won their shootout and took advantage of their situation to flank the Confederate artillery.  They then rolled the worst shot of the game, inflicting not a single hit on the vulnerable guns.  (Should have charged, I guess).  They left their flank open to the Confederate reserve, figuring that a unit that advanced no more than 12 cm in the first seven turns was unlikely to be much of a problem.  Meanwhile, rifle and artillery fire caused a rout among the Georgians on the Confederate right.  Was the day won for the Union?

Apparently not!  The 5th NC erupted from the woods, formed line, and let the 57th PA have it in the flank.  They proved that they, too, were lacking in marksmanship, and the Pennsylvanians were able to pull back to protect their flank.  However, they were the one Union unit armed with smoothbore muskets, and now they faced off against the one Confederate unit armed with rifles.  Meanwhile, the guns blazed away at each other ineffectually, and the other Virginia regiment closed to point blank in a gamble to create a sudden reversal in Union fortunes.

The 57th PA withered under long-range rifle fire and retired from the field.  The Confederacy was unable to exploit this event, however, as the Virginians' advance was met with a storm of Union lead.  With most of the Confederate brigade in tatters, the commander orders the remainder of his force to withdraw from the field.  With one regiment shaken and another hanging on by a thread, the Union commander is in no position to exploit his victory.  The Union claims a marginal victory.

I'm happy with this game, and I think I will be happier still with a larger field and a better instinct for how the mechanics work.  The game played quickly and had a "Civil War" feel to it, despite the generic nature of the rule set.  Black Powder command rules are a lot of fun.  They made this solo game interesting for me, as I could never predict the outcome of any action, even knowing what the enemy general was thinking.  I found the Black Powder rules very simple in action.  Even as a newb, I only had to look things up twice.  I think that these rules would play well with the students in the club I advise.
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