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.
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…