History to #Wargames – Fighting First Bull Run (July 21, 1861) in Hold the Line: The American Civil War (@worth2004, 2019)

It was Homecoming for Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy this weekend so Middle RMN Boy and myself squared off for a rare 2-player wargame. Wanting to keep it simple we chose Hold the Line: The American Civil War from Worthington Publishing (2018). This was Middle RMN’s first play; considering (spoiler alert) he won I’m sure it won’t be his last.

We set up the first scenario in the book , First Bull Run. Middle RMN took the Confederates and I took the Union. After a short rules explanation (the rules are very simple) we kicked off.

Like the historical battle, I pushed hard across the Stone Bridge at Sudley Ford. Unfortunately, two batteries of Confederate artillery proved most devastating and all four Union infantry units at the bridge were quickly (and I mean quickly) blown away. Considering the Confederates only need 6VP to win this put them far ahead. However, to the north the Confederates ceded Matthews Hill to the Union without a fight.

Comment: I was very surprised by this move by Middle RMN but I didn’t say much for I needed all the help I could get after losing the entire flanking attack at the Stone Bridge.

With the Confederates falling back to the Stone House and Henry Hill, the path was wide open for the Union to swing the Confederate flank and reach the two VP markers at the southern edge of the board. When the Union took the Stone House in a Close Combat without loses it started looking like the battle could swing.

However, as the Union was pushing from the Stone House past Henry Hill, it became obvious that the Confederate’s were in a good position to keep sniping away at the Union troops as they moved past. Even units using the woods to the west of Henry Hill had to come out eventually. I had two choices – keep losing units as they try to get past Henry Hill or assault the hill and eject the Confederates to secure my approach route.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Confederate reinforcements had arrived by now? Worse yet, the Confederates had better leadership. In Hold the Line each side gets a certain number of Action Points (AP) to reflect their Command & Control capacity on the battlefield. In this battle, the Union started out with 1x Leader and 4AP. The Confederates start with 1x Leader and 3AP but…when the reinforcing troops of General Johnson arrive the Confederates get a second Leader and their AP increased by 2 for a total of 5AP each turn. To further hurt, Middle RMN was rolling hot during the AP Determination Phase and consistently gaining 2 or 3 extra AP each turn whereas my dice were cold and I was only occasionally getting 2 extra AP and often only one.

Comment: Thematically, I imagined a lethargic Union command staff not reacting quickly to the situation while the Confederates kept on the hop. Thus, the Confederates were able to move quickly about the battlefield while the Union slowly plodded along. A simple rule but great impact on play.

In the end, the Union could not turn the Confederate flank and push to the VP hexes. Even taking Henry Hill didn’t help. With only one Union Leader to Rally units I was unable to keep enough strong units in front. As it was, two units, on the opposite end of the line from where McDowell was, suffered and were in the process of pulling back when the lone Confederate artillery battery hurled canisters of death upon them. The death of those two units pushed the Confederates to 6VP and the win.

Comment: The Confederates reaching 6VP while the Union had only 3VP does a great job of representing the rout of the Union troops as they see their lines crumble. A nice marriage of Victory Conditions and historical theming.

Post game, Middle RMN Boy expressed a real like for Hold the Line: The American Civil War. We talked bout how it is like the Commands & Colors-series (GMT Games) but without the cards. Middle RMN marveled at how quick the game plays. Our battle, which went to 11 of 18 possible turns, took about 60 minute to setup, learn, and fight. Middle RMN looked at the 14 different scenarios in the box and wants to play more against either me or his brother.

If you are looking for a lite-wargame then you really can’t go wrong with Hold the Line: The American Civil War from Worthington Publishing. Even an old grognard like myself finds it simple to learn but delivering a deeply thematic experience. The game is a winner and will surely get to the gaming table again and again.

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