At the end of August, we began something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time: namely a large-ish Kriegsspiel covering the Gettysburg campaign. I based the map (but not the rules) on the board game Lee’s Invincibles and found six volunteers – some of them veterans of my past experiments with Kriegsspiel. I divded them into two teams, one playing the Confederates and one the Union. Each group had a C-in-C (Lee or Hooker – we started the game before he was replaced historically), one infantry commander and one cavalry commander. I had to take some liberties with the historical command structure, but the order of battle was correct.
I had two main things I wanted to game to reflect: First, the difficulties of communication. After thinking about it, I decided not to implement a game mechanism for restricting communication – the players within one team could communicate in whatever form they liked. However, there was a time limit set for each turn, which I hoped would put enough pressure on the players so as to make things a bit more interesting.
The second aspect I wanted the game to reflect was the difficulty of locating the enemy and the importance of a close collaboration between cavalry and infantry commanders. Each side had three cavalry units, and those were the only units that could “see” beyond the location they were occupying. Infantry had to feel their way forward by moving into another location blindly. They could, however, chose between the standing orders “attack” and “retreat” – if both had “retreat”, no combat would occur. If one had “retreat” and the other “attack”, there was a 50% chance that combat would occur (modified by the commanders’ skills).
I gave both sides victory conditions, but each commander also had personal aims which would give him glory points. Those, of course, were not necessarily in the interest of the greater strategic picture…
I’m not going to write a detailed narrative of the game, which moved along at a brisk pace and took seven weeks to complete. Lee chose a historical strategy by moving his army down the Shenandoah Valley, while the Union split their troops at first and sent a portion after the Confederates. Just like in history, rebels easily took Winchester, but then a snag developed on the country roads and some units became stuck. Meanwhile, the cavalry fought aggressively, with the Union troopers managing to occupy Snicker’s Gap, from where they had a good look at the Confederate army marching. Hooker set his army in motion northward, while two corps under Reynolds stayed on the Confederates’ heels in the valley, leading to a memorable rearguard action dubbed “Pickett’s Last Stand”. The Confederate cavaly managed to encircle Gregg at Snicker’s Gap and completely destroy his division. As the Confederate army cleared the valley, they split up to plunder Pennsylvania. However, the Union army had also arrived north of the Potomac and elements from both armies stumbled into each other at Frederick City. The Union won this engagement (I had a tactical mini-game for battles) and the Confederates concentrated their army in the area of Gettysburg. Some units advanced to Westminster, where they stumbled yet again into Union infantry. What started out as an encounter battle became the deciding fight as both sides hurried troops to the town. Two days of combat ended with a decisive Union victory. The Confederates had to retreat – the invasion of Pennsylvania had failed.
This narrative, however, does not convey the drama and excitment of the game. The players perfectly fell into their roles, communicating by addressing themselves as “Major Generals”, discussing strategy and sometimes even quarreling a bit. What I found very interesting is that sometimes, the subordinate commanders became quite focused on their area of operations, while the C-in-Cs tried to keep the larger strategic picture in mind. However, the teams worked together very well. Fortunately for Lee, Jeb Stuart didn’t take my bait, which would have sent him far away from the infantry to get some individual glory points.
The battle and campaign of Gettysburg has long been a major area of interest for me and playing a Kriegsspiel covering it was something of a wargaming dream. I’m extremely grateful to the players for making this dream come true in the best way possible! Honestly, this was one of my favorite gaming experiences ever.