Thursday, July 7, 2011

None But Heroes (MMP) - "The Cornfield"

Game: None But Heroes (MMP)
Series: Line of Battle
Scenario: "The Cornfield"
Participants: Bob H, Myself
Time: 6/26 ~ 2.00PM - 4.00PM
         6/29 ~ 7.30PM - 10.00PM
          7/4 ~ 3.00PM - 4.30PM

The Line of Battle (LoB) series is MMP's renewed entry into the regimental level ACW field. Units are regiments and batteries. Strength point represent around 100 infantry or a single artillery piece. Hexes are roughly 100 yards and turns represent fifteen minutes. This is the third entry into this space by "The Gamers" Dean Essig. From my many conversations with HeavyD and Bob, as well as Mr. Essig's excellent designer notes, LoB is expressly designed to simplify his previous systems and correct a few issues with how the previous series rules drove players to do things that didn't look much like what happened on the field.

This is my first foray into regimental scale ACW games. Nearly all of my previous ACW gaming has been spent with GCACW. Both of my main gaming partners are big fans of regimental ACW games having played nearly all of them. Their collective enthusiasm for games of this scale fueled my interest in trying out this new series. We talked for hours about all the different series in the game space on our recent trip down to the Chickamauga Battlefield. Happily MMP released this title shortly after our return to St. Louis.

Initial Set Up

"None but Heroes" is about the battle of Antietam. Prior to playing this scenario Bob and I set up and "played" through the first scenario "The Charge of the Texas Brigade". Both of us are new to the series and our first scenario was all about learning as much as we could about the rules. We then next decided to play "The Cornfield" as it is the logical choice for the next scenario for two beginners. The scenario depicts the AoP's I Corps assault into Millers cornfield and beyond to Drunkard church. Historically, I Corps made it into the cornfield and past but was unable to withstand the counterattack by Hood's division. Casualties were extremely heavy on both sides. This action also features two of the more famous Brigades of the ACW, the "Iron Brigade" (I Corps) and the "Stonewall Brigade".

I made Bob play the Union even though he's much more of a Southern gentlemen then I. I rightly guessed that Bob would pick up the game much quicker then I would. As the Union player is on the attack in this scenario it was only fitting. I had absolutely no clue as to what I should be doing as the scenario opened.


Openning

I Corps approaches Millers Cornfield
Bob starts out with the entire 1st Corps on the move. The first turn didn't have a lot action in it as Bob brought his Corps out of the North Woods and marched towards Millers Cornfield. The Ridge line in the middle of the cornfield prevented LOS between most of our units, so this advance was largely shielded from my main force. I did however have several batteries on Nicodemus Hill which shot into Doubleday's division on Bobs right. 

The Confederate Batteries on Nicodemus Hill Engage the approaching Union units


We quickly made our first major rules error. On our initial pass through the rules and again as we were playing we missed the part of the rules where it said that you cannot take the shot if you column shift off the fire table. Thus I took perhaps a half a dozen artillery shots illegally on the "1" column. Due to the special rules in this scenario I quickly ran out of ammo for most of the batteries on the hill. I did take out 4-5 steps of infantry though prior to this. We discovered our error later in the game whilst searching for an unrelated rules question. The lack of an index in the rules book was felt here as we repeatedly spent a long time scouring the RB looking for an arcane answer to a rules question. The up side was that we were really never unable to find a rule to cover whatever we were looking up, it just took us a lot of time.


I Corps Prepares to enter the cornfield


I largely remained passive on my first couple of turns as Bob's units bore down on me. Given what eventually happened I can assume that I missed my chance to improve my defense on these first couple of turns. After having played through the scenario once I can think of several adjustments I would make as the CSA player on these opening turns to offer the Union a stronger defense. This of course is another way of saying that while our result was fairly exciting and one sided, my gut feeling is that this scenario, when played by two reasonably skilled players will be fairly well balanced. I was also very impressed with the fact that Mr. Essig often made mention in the rules/notes of adjustments to VC's based on play testing.

Into the Cornfield

Union Batteries suffer as they emerge from the Cornfield

It was now Bobs turn to learn a few lessons the hard way. As I had previously mentioned, Bob is able to get into the cornfield largely unseen by my main force. Bob elected to have a few batteries accompany his first Brigade over the crest and through the cornfield. Here we made our second major rules gaff. An artillery battery must be limbered in order to move thus Bob had these forward batteries limbered in order for them to move up and take position on my side of the cornfield. We missed the part where a battery must roll for losses if it unlimbers within 5 hexes of an enemy unit. At the end of Bobs turn we was sitting pretty with a couple of batteries mixed in with his lead brigade.

My next turn however went quite well as I opened up on this line and inflicted some impressive losses. Many of Bobs infantry regiments ran, forcing the batteries to do the same. We realized our mistake and Bob lost many of his guns as his batteries had to limber up only two hexes from my first line. Bob even mentioned that the designer made note of this no-no in the notes to the game. Neither one of us will make this mistake again. None the less we certainly had a good time leaning this important lesson while watching these batteries melt away as they tried to bug out.

End of the Union's 2nd Turn

My next turn found me starting to actively guide my defense as I started to get more and more comfortable with the rules. I mostly stood in place and fired at Bob from about two hexes distance. Bob's units largely stood their ground, except strangely for the brigade that was protecting the batteries. Hindsight again makes me think that I missed another opportunity to lessen the mighty shock I was about to face in Bobs next turn.

Two Lines Meet

Bob engages Lawton's Brigade

This turn (the 3rd I believe) was certainly very exciting. It literally was my first experience at having two lines comes together at this scale on a board game. Bob started on his left, with Ricketts division. We were learning on the fly here as Bob would move a couple of regiments, see the results and then try something a little different the next time. I enjoyed it immensely.

A word here on the mechanics of movement & combat are in order. During a players turn he has three basic choices on how he can move a unit (in proximity to the enemy, that is 2-6 hexes or so). First off you can simply stand and shoot, doing nothing else. This is nice because it doesnt trigger an Opening Volley. Opening Volleys allow the defender (or inactive player) a chance to shot back prior to the active player making his shot or charge attack. I have to say that I love this feature of the game, its reminiscent of Defensive First Fire in ASL. The second option a player has is to "Move and Fire", this means that the active player can move up to half his movement allowance (3 for infantry in line) and then take a shot. This exposes the moving unit to reaction fire (an opening volley) at no risk of morale degradation (you generally with take losses though). The final option open to the active player is to "charge", this means that the player can move a unit adjacent to an enemy unit and make a fire attack followed by a much tougher morale check (should the fire warrant it). This usually means that the attacker has a good chance of taking the hex and forcing the defender back (or in some cases to run away).

Bob reinforces after smashing Lawton's Brigade

The catch here with the Charge option though is that in order to execute a charge, the unit must pass two morale checks (these are called Closing Rolls) in order to move adjacent and then to make the charge attack. Failure of the first means the unit is unable to move adjacent (he can still fire though). Failure of the second (when you are adjacent) means that you can still shot (and are subject to an OV) but the special Charge modifiers do not apply to any subsequent morale check the defender may make (i.e. it's much more likely that the defender will stand). These mechanics seem to work very well in simulating what it takes to actually run towards hundreds of armed men trying to shot you. Unit morale plays a big role in whether you are actually able to get in and make the charge. This also creates a very engaging experience for both players as its highly interactive for both and full of surprises.

So, back to our narrative. Bob is learning right in front of me, in front of the East Woods with Ricketts division. I am learning too and enjoying the whole thing, even as my line gradually melts away. One of the interesting options open to the attacker is that he can mix and match his movement and fire options. So you can open an attack with a couple of regiments firing (prep fire), then you can move a couple more in close and fire again (advancing fire) finally you can finish your attack with a dramatic charge to take the position (close combat). The system elegantly handles the defenders return fire with the Opening Volley mechanic.

As the defender you then have to deal with units that run away. You have choices. The second time you play the game you will be much better at understanding what this looks like and how to prepare for it. The was my first time playing, so it was messy. In short as a unit runs away from a fight (due to a failed morale check) it will have an impact on the other units around it. For example, if I have a unit directly behind the retreating unit, I have to either run through the hex (bad for both the running unit and the unit in the path as both units have their morale degraded) or I can have the unit that is in the way displace one hex, degrading its morale in the process (although less then if the unit would have move through its hex).


End of the Union 3rd Turn

Again this is an elegant way of handling this situation and very engaging. The defender has to give thought to setting up his line and think through what a retreat will do to those units behind the first line. Its also very engaging in that even during my opponents turn I am still making important decisions that effect the outcome of the game.

By the time Bob works his way over to the cornfield my initial line is mostly gone. I have one stalwart band standing firm due to the leaders in the hex, but almost two whole brigades have taken flight. Bob is only a few hexes away from the 2nd victory hex and I am still a couple turns away from having Hoods division freed for movement.

Adjustment and Counter Attack

End of the my 3rd turn

When the smoke clears from Bobs turn I am faced with a tough situation. I am now a bit smarter in what to expect when two lines meet and I have the benefit of what Bob and I learned during his turn. Still he is largely standing where my units where just moments before and in fairly good shape sans losses taken from OVs. I start on my right with Ripley's brigade. I try and move up and support the 21st NC which is still holding its ground. When I do attack or charge it doesn't go nearly as well as it did for Bob, he has very good morale troops and they are determined to hold ground they have just taken. On my left I get to open up with a battery using dense canister and cut down a regiment in short order, using all of my ammo in the process. Its satisfying but its not going to stem the tide of blue uniforms poring our of the cornfield. The Stonewall Brigade takes flight as well.

The End


The 12th Mass displaced Ewell's Divisions HQ

Bobs next turn will be our last (6.30AM turn). Here we both learn another important lesson. Divisional HQ's are represented by counters. When an enemy unit enters your HQ it has to displace. This triggers the whole unit to skedaddle back to get into command range of the now displaced (8-12 hexes to the rear) HQ unit. Bob opens with some fire attacks and then moves in with the 12th Mass and Charges the regiment in my HQs hex. He takes the hex and we both review the displacement rules. Its going to be a mess for my Confederates. We decide to call it a battle at this point as the odds are very long that I have enough time to adjust for the displacement AND retake the victory location.

Ewell's HQ repositioned

Despite my shellacking I had a great time. There was pain along the way in learning a new system. An Index in the series rules would be a great help in lessening this. We spent a lot of time looking up things for the first and second time, but this lessened as the scenario went on and we become more confident with the rules. The meat of the game lies in the movement and fire mechanics and these are rock solid. A few turns of playing and you will nearly have most of the important concepts down. I loved the inspired design of the Opening Volley and Closing rolls. I like the way the series handles Charges (melee combat). I am certainly no expert, but the system "feels" right in factoring morale into these mechanics, something a lot of game don't consider.

I do not love the map art. Bob and I spent a lot of time looking back and forth between the map, the key and the terrain effects chart. There is a lot of little chrome on the map the mostly had little impact on the larger scheme of things, this takes some time to get used to. I felt like I was fighting the map most of the time. The Line of Sight rules however are well written and I didn't have trouble with these. The counter art grew on me. The charts are functional and well thought out in most cases.

I should point out that the game spends a lot of time on the Orders section of the rulebook, that is the mechanics of assigning units (Divisions and Corps mostly) objectives. We didn't even touch those rules in this scenario as its not really needed here as the Union player has clear cut objectives and there is little room to wiggle around these.

I really liked the experience and narrative the game creates. Both players are highly engaged in the very tactical decision making this game presents (at least in this scenario). The devil is in the details and this devil is a whole lot of fun.

10 comments:

  1. Good stuff. I'm leaning toward buying this one as I got to spend some time walking around the Cornfield and North Woods a couple of years back and have been itching to play an ACW game at the regimental level.

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  2. Very nicely written! I'll now have to read all of your AARs...
    Jim Lauffenburger

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  3. @9Train,

    This is a good place to start, I really like the system.

    @Jeff
    Thank you sir for the feedback, I really enjoy writing them.

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  4. well done. Do oyu mind if I repost it with attribution over on my blog?
    http://meshtime.com/

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  5. Just wait until you add in the Orders System. It is what makes this, and the CWB Series, so much fun. There is nothing more frustrating than watching your brilliant plans dissolve into dust as your subordinate commanders: dither away trying to understand just what you meant; insubordinately refuse to follow your orders; or just have a case of the slows, depending on how you want to story board the delay system. Of course it is equally entertaining to you to watch it happen to your opponent...

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  6. @Sharp

    Thank you for the feedback. By all means, link away sir.

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  7. @Allen,

    I look forward to try out the Orders process...it looks very interesting.

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  8. Just started reading your blog. Very well done. I agree that you will love playing with the orders system. It's been a while since we played a game together. Maybe someday...

    Keep up the good work. I am enjoying reading some of your reviews.

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  9. What do the crosses mean? They look like the spacers one uses for installing tile -- is that what they are?

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  10. Stephen,

    Great post! After owning NbH since it came out, I finally broke out the rules last week and solo'ed the first scenario in order to get a handle on the system. Your post really helped stoke my interest in the game.

    All the best!

    Bill

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