Learning to Love Longstreet

I’ve never really been interested in big battle games. Most of the images I’ve seen of such games show masses of figures arrayed in a thin line from one table edge to the other. Shoving bases forward and seeing who rolls higher is not how I like to spend my evening.

Fortunately my mates Sigur and Virago are always ready to dismantle my silly prejudices and show me the abundance of interesting games out there. Last week, it was time to reconsider my thoughts on big battles, as they had prepared a game of Longstreet. The units in Longstreet represent regiments, so battles are admittedly not that big, which is perfectly fine for me. From my reading, I can relate to regimental actions and having recently finished Earl Hess’ fantastic book on small-scale infantry tactics , I was curious to see how the rules would handle the manouvres and formations used by Civil War commanders.

Longstreet-Front-Cover

At the core of Longstreet is a card-driven mechanic. It’s more akin to Commands & Colors than to Sharp Practice, though. The cards don’t drive the turn sequence, which is IGO-UGO, but are hand cards which enable you to not only initiate phases, such as shooting and moving, but also to augment or make specific actions.

We played what I gathered was a rather small action. Each of us got four regiments of five bases plus one battery of two artillery bases. I played the Union, using Virago’s figures, while Sigur fielded his own Confederates.

The terrain featured several hills in the middle and a small town on my left flank. Sigur positioned his artillery on one of the hills, making me deploy cautiously. He also formed two columns to march into the town. I positioned the units on my right flank behind a stone wall. My battery was on my left, where it had a reasonably clear field of fire, covered by another regiment on my far left.

The game started with Sigur moving his troops forward while I stayed put. One reason was that I was hesitant to move into the field of fire of his battery. The other reason was that the troops on my right got tangled up because the road was in a deplorable condition – Sigur had played a card which allowed him to place a piece of heavy going in front of my units, and we reasoned that the road had been swept away by heavy rain. In any case, it took a while until I sorted out my guys and finally had them in a jump-off position on the other side of the stone wall.

Sigur, meanwhile, had decided to move his battery to the center. He also seems to have abandoned the plan to take the town, because his columns suddenly turned about-face. In a rare show of tactical acumen, I recognised this as my chance. Playing the ‘Quickstep’ card, which allowed me to move swiftly, I advanced my whole right flank as far as possible. My leading regiment positioned itself so it could hit Sigur’s guys in the flank, its supporting regiment moved towards the Confederate center to cover the advance while the third regiment marched through the town in column so as to hit the Rebels from behind.

I also had the regiment on my far left advance so as to pin the Confederates positioned there.

To my surprise, the whole scheme worked very well. Caught unawares, the outflanked Rebels had to endure my volleys. It didn’t help that I played a card on one of their units forbidding it from moving for one turn! Confederate casualties started to mount. My counter-battery fire had managed to knock out the enemy artillery, so me regiment in the center could manoeuvre freely. When it made short thrift of its enemy counterpart, Rebel morale broke. Hurrah for the Union!

What a fun game! I was very pleasantly surprised by Longstreet. The rules are simple, quick to learn and very intuitive. The game flowed along smoothly and didn’t take too long. I like the cards, as they introduce a bit of friction and shape possibilities – I wouldn’t have been able to make that flank move if I hadn’t had the ‘Quickstep’ card. However, what I liked most was that manoeuvres really counted and that it was possible to manoeuvre in a way that felt historically plausible. The most important thing for regiments and their commanders in the ACW was articulation, the ability to make a wide array of manouvres and formations and to be able to decide when to perform which. Although the formations are abstracted in the game (which is a good thing in my opinion), it still feels as if you have lots of options and as if your decision makes a difference.

In fact, I was so much taken by Longstreet that I’m now pondering over enlarging my 15mm ACW collection so as to be able to play it at home…

Gaming with Zombies and Rebels

Last week, we had a kind of board game frenzy. It all started with my mates Sigur and Virago coming over to try out Zombicide, which I bought as a second-hand copy some time ago. Sigur brought his impressive collection of survivors and zombies, a mix of figures from different manufacturers, painted as always with the hand of a master.

ZC_Cover

We first played the training mission, which was a bit boring and didn’t convince me. We then proceeded to the first proper scenario. The objective was to find foodstuff and escape. Our survivors fought heroically and we didn’t do too badly, but Zombie numbers started to add up and in the end, we succumbed to the undead horde. This time, I really enjoyed the game. The rules are quite simple, but there are lots of decision points. Zombicide is a cooperative game and you really have to work together to achieve your goals. One interesting mechanic is that the more experience points you have, the more Zombies appear each turn. The level of danger is dependent on the character with the most experience, so if one player just wants to max out his guy, all are in deep trouble. Each character has unique features and you can collect and swap equipment. It all makes for a very cinematic game!

The next day, my nephew was over, so we had another go at Zombicide. We played another mission and, proceeding carefully and methodically, managed to win the scenario. The kid was very pleased and voiced his enthusiasm by declaring it to be “the best game ever!”. He even proposed that we should paint up the figures together…

On Saturday, I met the kid’s dad and one of his friends and we had another game. This time, it was a close call and my and the nephew’s characters died, but the other players managed to win the scenario in the end. It again shows how close you have to collaborate: We split up the group early on and me and the kid got isolated and eaten by the Zombies. However, I like to think that our sacrifice provided enough distraction so the others could complete their mission…

Zombicide is a great game and highly recommended if you look for an action-oriented cooperative experience.

To get a change and top off the weekend, K. and I played our first game of Battle Cry. We played the first scenario, the Battle of Bull Run. I’m very pleased with how the 2mm figures look on the board as they convey the feeling of playing a big battle very well. Despite initial scepticism, K. liked the game, especially the card activation mechanics. While my Confederate cavalry swept away K.’s flank, her center advanced steadily and drove off the Rebels. There was a moment when it looked as if I might turn the tables, but in the end the Union won the close fought action. A great game which gave me enough motivation to finish the rest of the figures so we can play other scenarios.

Nobody in Mexico – A Fistful of Lead AAR

We’ve finally managed to unpack most of the boxes from our house move. I’ve settled into a new painting workspace and a nice one it is. It’s a semi-temporary setup: Not a permanent working station, but at least a separate table so I don’t have to pack everything away each time we have dinner. The table will also double as our main gaming table. As we had our nephew over, we decided to break it in with a game of A Fistful of Lead Reloaded.

K. and the kid played the Mexican Revolutionaries. They were supported by Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, controlled by the kid. I had the Federales, supported by the German military advisor Otto Strunz von Blunzenstumpf and an American Mercenary know as Sentenza. The Revolutionaries were intent on liberating the village, which was occupied by the Federales. I set up my figures in the middle of the board, situating one on the church roof to act as a sniper – something that would annoy the attackers quite a bit.

Here are some impressions from the game:

Sniper
My rooftop sniper really annoyed the attackers.
3
Otto and Nobody duel – Nobody won!
streetfighting
Ferocious fighting in the village.
jeffe
My Jeffe in a tight spot.
duel2
Sentenza duelling.

Sentenza turned out to be my meanest guy. In the end, he had two wounds but, despite being armed only with a pistol, he sold his life dearly. Alas, to no avail! The Revolutionaries won and the kid was very happy with a well deserved victory.

A Fistful of Lead is a nice set of rules with a clever activation mechanics. However, despite what’s advertised, it’s not the quickest of games to play, especially with more than two persons. With three persons and a total of 20 figures, it took us five hours to play the game to a conclusion. The lack of proper morale mechanics and the possibility to heal wounds made characters come back even when they were already crippled. I have to admit the game felt a bit drawn out towards the end and had me wishing it would end already – not something that happens too often. However, the kid had a blast and that’s the important thing.

Union Naval Landing Party for Sharp Practice

When the Civil War broke out, the Union navy had a mere 7.000 men and forty functioning ships. An intense recruitment program was started, often trying to lure men into service with exaggerated promises of prize money. At the end of the war, the navy had 51.500 men serving on 670 ships.

In contrast to soldiers, who generally had a rural background, sailors predominantly came from the urban working class. 45% of recruits were foreign-born immigrants, most of them Irish, but many from England, Canada, Germany and many more states. The navy also had a long-standing tradition of recruiting African-Americans and by the end of the Civil War, 15-20% of the men serving were black.

Sailor had the reputation of being rowdy and ill-disciplined, but they were also hard-working and proved to be quite able in combat. As the blockade of the Confederate coast was central to Union strategy, landing operations were conducted from the beginning on. Sailors were drilled with small weapons and regularly landed for shooting exercises. As boarding actions were very rare, they were not accustomed to fighting in close quarters. There was a least one occasion when they did attack enemy lines with close combat weapons (the ill-fated assault on Fort Fisher), but most of the time it seems that they preferred to shoot at the enemy from a distance. Admiral Dahlgren’s instructions from August 8, 1864 state that “skirmish drill” was most appropriate for sailors.

Sailors often operated together with a ship’s contingent of Marines. Marines were few in number – at the beginning of the war, there were only 1.800, and they never numbered more than 3.900 – but they belonged to the few regular troops available to the Federal government. Although they did fight in a couple of battles (most importantly at First Bull Run), most often they were employed in amphibious operations. They were also deployed as light infantry and would fight in open order. Shooting practice was encouraged and they were regarded as good marksmen.

Sailors were mostly armed with the Plymouth musket (Whitney Model 1861). The use of buckshot at short range was recommended by Dahlgren. Some .52 cal. Sharps and Hankins rifles were also in circulation, while pistols and cutlasses were used for assaults. Marines were armed with the Springfield rifle musket (M1855).

battery
Sailors working a battery during the siege of Port Hudson.

One special piece of equipment was the Dahlgren Light Boat Howitzer. Its carriage had a third wheel in the trail so it could be manhandled up a beach. A very mobile weapon, it was an integrated part of landing force tactics.

dahlgren2
Dahlgren Boat Howitzer.

Naval Landing Parties conducted a large variety of operations. An important task was scouting, especially in the maze of waterways and inlets of the South Atlantic Coast. Armed launches would be dispatched to probe a river, looking for smugglers, blockade runners and hidden batteries. They were also sent to capture and destroy Confederate ships, confiscate or destroy contraband, hunt guerillas or storm gun emplacements.

Such operations make, of course, perfect scenarios for Sharp Practice. My Force List for the Union Naval Landing Party can be found here or in the Resources section of this blog.

There are a number of figures available. In 28mm, 1st Corps offers a large variety of Marines and Sailors. Redoubt also makes landing parties.

In 15mm, Minifigs produces Sailors and Marines, although the Marines are in dress uniform which was most probably never worn in battle. QRF/Freikorp15 also offers sailors, while Peter Pig makes a very nice naval artillery crew.

sentry
Sailor standing sentry.

Bibliography

It is difficult to get detailed information on the operations of naval landing parties. I’m very grateful to Mr Chuck Veit, President of the reenactment group ‘U.S. Naval Landing Party’, who patiently answered my questions and generously shared his research. His website is a treasure trove of information, while his book A Dog Before a Soldier contains many ideas for scenarios. Very useful information on the Dahlgren Boat Howitzers can be found on Craig Swain’s blog To the Sound of the Guns.

Bennett, Michael J.: Union Jacks. Yankee Sailors in the Civil War, Chapel Hill, NC.: University of North Carolina Press 2004.

Browning, Robert M. Jr.: Success is all that was expected. The South Atlantic blockading squadron during the Civil War, Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Inc. 2002.

Field, Ron: American Civil War Marines 1861-65, Oxford: Osprey Publishing 2004.

Field, Ron: Bluejacket. Uniforms of the United States Navy in the Civil War Period 1852-1865, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History 2010.

Veit, Chuck: A Dog Before a Soldier. Almost-lost Episodes in the U.S. Navy’s Civil War, self-published (Lulu.com) 2010.

EDIT: As Andy Hall (of the highly recommended Dead Confederates blog) was kind enough to point out that the sailors in the first image are not actually US sailors, I've changed the image to one showing crewmen of the USS Monitor relaxing on deck.