You will remember that I backed the Kickstarter for Over Malvern Hill, the new ACW rules from Stand to Games. The rules arrived and I liked what I saw, so I roped Sigur in for a test game. Unfortunately, he had to cancel, so I decided to run a solo game. This was probably a good idea for a first game, as I had to look a lot of stuff up…
I used the Battle of Big Bethel as a scenario. It’s a good scenario for solo gaming, as the Confederates have a rather static defense position. However, it’s a bit difficult to balance, as the Union had a huge advantage in numbers and should, by all accounts, have won – which they didn’t due to the difficult terrain and severe command problems. So, while the Union player has a lot more forces, it should still be quite difficult for him or her to win the game.
To spice it up a bit, I introduced a deck of friction cards (I got the initial idea from John Drewienkiewicz’ Wargaming in History Vol. 10: The Shenandoah Valley 1862, a most splendid book full of great ideas). At the start of each turn, a card is drawn from a deck. There are several blank cards in the deck, but there are also random event cards (for this scenario, one for the Confederates and three for the Union) and a ‘coffee’ card. When a random event card is drawn, the players whose random event it is rolls on a table and applies the result. The coffee cards signifies a lull in the action. Units in close range to each other withdraw a bit (unless, of course, they hold a scenario-specific objective), commanders may rally their troops etc.
My table set up followed the maps in Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, a very good overview of the battle as well as the political background, which is in fact more interesting than the rather small affair.
Like in history, my (i.e. the Union) forces arrived piecemeal and my main commander – who unfortunately was with the first column – was rather underwhelming, to put it mildly. I advanced my first two regiments, trying to keep them out of the fire from the main Confederate battery while still threatening the forward redoubt.
One of the regiments was sent on a flank march, which meant however that the other regiment was out of command and could only stand there. Fortunately, my main force arrived soon after.
My artillery had managed to silence the small Confederate cannon deployed in the forward redoubt, but neglected to drive it away for good – something that would haunt me later. Still, spirits were high and the regiments charged forward in field column.
Which, as I quickly learned, was not a good idea, especially against artillery. The attack got stuck, while, on my right flank, the regiment attacking across the creek was also driven back.
I withdrew what was left of my attack column and waited for my last column to arrive.
I deployed those two regiments on my left flank with the intent to at least take the forward redoubt. A first frontal attack got stuck – fortifications are really hard to storm (as it should be). Fortunately, the coffee card came up, which allowed me to sort out my troops and redeploy them for a final push.
Alas, bad dice rolling contributed to an utter defeat in close combat, destroying my attacking regiment.
There was nothing left to do – the game was over. At least I had achieved a historical result!
I really enjoyed the game. At first, I had to look up a lot – it seems I didn’t read the rules as carefully as I had thought. I also changed the QRS after the first turn: Initially, I wanted to use half distances, as is advised in the rule book for 15mm. I quickly found that this looked daft on my table, as the relation between ground scale, figure scale and terrain scale felt wrong. So I used distances reduced by 1/3, which looked good and worked fine.
After the first couple of turns, the game started to flow very nicely. I still kept forgetting things and later discovered that I missed a couple of minor details. However, the game was fun and felt historical plausible. It also produced a great narrative (helped by the friction deck). Over Malvern Hill for me feels like the right balance between period-specific details and playability. I’ll certainly keep playing – hopefully, I can get Sigur to have a game some other time!