#WargameWednesday – Close to Home: Battle of Ox Hill

IMG_1759Living in the Mid-Atlantic region means we have many historical places from the Colonial, American Revolution, and American Civil War close at hand. This past weekend, we took a short trip to a very local battlefield. After the trip, I pulled out one of my latest gaming acquisitions, Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity 1 September 1862 (Decision Games, 2013). As the Historical Background lays out:

The ensuing battle, misnamed Chantilly for a plantation several miles to the west, was a disjointed, inconclusive affray that petered out in a thunderstorm that evening. But it need not have been so. It must rank as one of the great “lost opportunities” of the war; had Jackson got onto Pope’s line of communication, the result might very well have been the destruction of an entire Union army.

My copy of Chantilly is part of the Mini Games series that comes in a ziplock bag.  As the DG site tells us:

The Mini Game Series provides a variety of introductory games that are designed to be played in about an hour. The eras covered are: 19th century, Ancient, WWII and Modern. Each game is an 11 x 17 inch map sheet, 40 counters and a rules sheet. The mini game series takes only minutes to learn and once one game is played, players can immediately play other scenarios with the same standard rules.

The rules for Chantilly are based on DG’s Musket & Saber Quick Play Mini Game System Rules (4 pages) with 2 pages of scenario exclusive rules.

After several rules run-thru and two plays, I must admit I am disappointed with the game.

IMG_1761
Game map covers an almost identical area – though in a much smaller format

Component-wise the game is fine, and at the $9.95 price point is a great value. The rules complexity are a bit above pure introductory-level. BGG rates the complexity for Chantilly at 1.67 out of 5; a rating I agree with.

It is also that very simplicity of the rules that gets the game in trouble. Chantilly obviously uses a cut-version of a larger rules set. This leads to several issues that make gameplay challenging and lessens the gaming experience.

The first item that jumped out to me is F. Lee’s Cavalry Brigade. This unit has a Combat Factor (CF) of (2) – that is – a 2 in parentheses. NOWHERE in the Game System or Scenario rules is this explained. Luckily the question was asked on BGG, and a blessed soul referenced the full-series rules for the answer (“A parenthesized CF is halved when attacking”).

The FLee cavalry counter also confused me because not only did it have the parentheses around the CF, but it didn’t have a Charge Factor as seen on the counter example in 9.1 Cavalry Units. As I was studying 9.0 Cavalry, I read through 9.3 Squares with mounting anger because there were no square markers in the countermix! It was not until you get to the end of scenario rule 12.2 The Scenario that you discover that all the rules study is for nought:

All standard rules apply except 9.0. Treat the lone calvary unit (FLee) like an infantry unit for all purposes. There are no charges or squares.

The next part of the game system that I am unsure of is the combat results. There are six possible combat results:

  • Ar/Dr = Retreat. All units either disrupt or retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ac/Dc = Retreat Check. If MC [Morale Check] failed, treat as Ar/Dr. If MC passed, apply parenthesized result.
  • Ax/Dx = Retreat or Loss. If MC passed, unit may take a loss. If MC failed, or if passed and player chooses, all units disrupted and retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ex = Exchange. Each side loses step.
  • NE = No Effect.

I’m not going to show the CRT here, but suffice it to say that outright killing a unit (Ex result) is very hard. Indeed, it appears on the CRT only as the parenthesized result of the Ac/Dc – which is a bit counterintuitive to me. Most units have a Morale Rating of 4, meaning they must roll a 4 or less to PASS their morale check. But in the case of the Ac/Dc result, “passing” your morale check is BAD (Step Loss) whereas “failing” your morale check is good (retreat).

One other way to kill a unit is by Standard Rule 7.8 Rout. Basically, if a retreating unit has an Unsafe Line of Retreat (buried in 7.6 Retreats & the SLR [Safe Line of Retreat]) then it routs per rule 7.8.

Even the victory conditions are confusing. The scenario rules for Chantilly have conditions for either a Confederate or Union Major Victory. Scenario rule 14.3 Minor Victory states, ‘If neither player wins a major victory, calculate the VP scored by each. The player with the larger total wins a minor victory.” So I went hunting for how to score VP. Scoring VP is found in the Standard rule 3.4 Winning the Game which states, in part, “Unless otherwise specified in the exclusive rules, each player scores one VP for each enemy unit or leader eliminated, two VP for each enemy unit or leader captured.”

Capturing a leader is found at the end of Standard rule 10.0 Leaders while captured units are buried (again) at the end of 7.6 Retreats & the SLR in the discussion of No Line of Retreat.

IMG_1765
Situation after Second Player (Union) Combat Phase Turn 5 – Ferrero’s Brigade of Reno’s 2nd Division gallantly holds off the Confederate onslaught. Poe’s brigade with two batteries of artillery has retreated out of the picture.

All these rules nuances I discovered over the course of several plays. Yes, the answers in most cases are in the rules – once you find them. In DG’s effort to “standardize” as much as possible, they actually created confusion with poorly cross-referenced or formatted rules. They are not alone in this problem, I pointed outs similar issues with newer games from GMT and C3I such as Plan Orange and South Pacific.

In Scenario rule 16.0 Designer’s Notes, Chris Perello points out:

There were three major design issues that needed to be addressed in this game. First was the omnipresent mud. That was accounted for by reducing the movement allowances for all units, dropping it to four instead of the system-norm of six.

Second was the need to slow the Confederates. If they retain full initiative throughout the game they will steamroll the Federals in the early going.

The “full initiative” reference is to Scenario rule 15.0 Confederate Initiative, which is a mechanic for determining each turn if the Confederates have full movement or half movement. If the result of a d6 roll is less than the turn number, the Confederates have full movement. This rule is needed because of Standard rule 4.3 March Movement which allows a unit that starts and remains at least two hexes away from an enemy unit the entire movement to DOUBLE its movement allowance (meaning that when the Confederates have half-movement, March Movement allows them full movement – got it?). This allows units to fly across the map at a rate faster than rush-hour traffic on I-66 in the same area today. I am not sure Chris actually met his design challenge. I might try a variation where rule 4.3 is suspended just to see what it’s impact is on play is.

All this seems to me a lot to think about and write about a very short and simple game. But that’s my point; what is a short and should be a simple game is actually needlessly complex. I feel that the designer and developer looked at the Battle of Chantilly (nee Ox Hill) and thought that with only a few small changes it could work. It does, to a point less than what they probably hoped. Like the actual battle, Chantilly is a game of lost opportunities because of disjointed rules.

 

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