Having prepared some more roads and river sections for the 6mm Altar of Freedom (AoF) game using 6mm Baccus figures, I managed to get a 6 x 4 foot table set up and play a solo game through to get more familiar with the game mechanics and tactics.
The layout of the table came from the Altar of Freedom Eastern Theatre Campaign book.
The scenario for First Bull Run (First Manassas) has two similar sized forces trying to cross the Bull Run river to make political capital. The Confederates need to threaten the town of Centreville in the north-east as well as try to break the Union forces. They set up first. The Union deploy second around Centreville and the north of the table. Other than crossing the river, they need to try to bloody the nose of the confederates.
The obvious thing about this battle is the small size of the forces and the amount of space to manoeuvre in. There are several crossing points for the river and it is difficult for both armies to both defend and attack all these places. Each element in the game represents a brigade (infantry, cavalry or artillery). There are also bases for Generals and for their Headquarters. HQ’s are where broken troops move to and can try to rally at the end of each turn.
The players really have to come up with some good ideas on how to defend but at the same time be able to reach their objectives.
There are two Confederate Generals, Johnston and Beauregard. The latter was given overall command on the day by the former, despite their ranks. I decided the Confederates would deploy in strength south of Centreville and try to make the shortest route to their objectives. To this end, Beauregard’s larger Corps deployed in the south to south-east ready to cross the Bull Run. Johnston’s smaller Corps was to defend the crossing to the west of the map and stop the Union crossing, nothing more.
The Union have four divisions but only one commander, McDowell. He needs to try to be everywhere today(!). The Union get to see where the Confederate forces deploy and so came up with the plan to have Tyler’s Division defend the large force approaching from the South with Miles’ division as a reserve to the south of Centreville. Hunter’s division is to defend against Johnston in the west. Heintzelman was given the task of making an outflanking manoeuvre to the far east and south through the dense woodland and oppose the small force in that area.
I should say at this point that I had not referred back to the historical deployment at this time and so was not sure how this ‘plan’ fared against history.
The game was to last 8 turns (8am to 4pm) and have a Turn Clock set to 10.
The Turn clock starts at ten and when it reaches zero, the turn ends. Players assign Priority points from their generals to each division in secret. They can also put spare points into bidding for the Turn Clock and for End of Turn adjustments. After each Priority rating that is used in the turn is reached and done with, each player rolls a d6 and the player who has control of the Turn Clock decides which
There are also some Personality Traits that each General has.They add flavour to the game and give some interesting effects and synergies.
McDowell is Inept and a Quartermaster. The former means he cannot set two or more divisions under his command to have the same Priority in a turn. The latter means he can have two Headquarter units and both can be moved up to 4 inches in the End of Turn adjustments.
Beauregard is Revered (+2 to rally rolls within 6 inches of target); Grandiose (has a 5/6 chance of starting a turn minus one priority point and a 1/6 chance of gaining +2 points); Micromanager (must save half of his Priority points for EOT adjustments).
Johnston is a Disciplinarian (one brigade of his can re-roll one shooting result per turn); Shrewd Tactician (can save unspent Priority points to the next turn)
Here is the field of battle…
Shooting, Close Combat and rallying are all done with a single d6 per player so dice are not in bucketfuls. Rolls are made and simple factors applied. For close combat, the difference between the totals is the result. Shooting generally ends in nothing or pushbacks, unless it is unharmed artillery at close range (!) Close combat usually ends up in one side being forced to fall back and become fatigued. Exceptionally, a unit can be overwhelmed and is broken in one turn. Factors affecting combat tend to be fatigue, brigade strength (rated +3 down to -3) and supporting (touching) allies (+1 per brigade or general). Generals can become casualties in close combat so be careful (!)
I will not go into too much turn detail, as the defensive fire was not conducted properly and led to a bias against the Union which saw the game end result speed up. I do not think the Union should have broken so quickly.
Both sides have a break point of 5 brigades (based on morale and starting size). Lose 5 brigades and the game is lost.
The Confederates win the Turn Clock.
Beauregard orders some of his brigades over the Bull Run due north at Tyler’s Union division. The rest under Longstreet make a road reserve move to the other spur of the road. Where are they going?
Johnston keeps to his orders and waits to see what the Union do.
Heintzelman moves due south through the woods to try to outflank the Confederates.
Tyler’s Union division shooting is ineffective.
Miles’s Union division fails to receive orders as the Turn Clock reaches zero before their low priority assignment comes up.
Beauregard’s EOT adjustments allow him to push up some of the divisions already over the Bull Run into line facing the Union division.
Beauregard’s forces spread out to face the Union defenders to the south of Centreville. Defensive firing makes some dents in the Confederate line but they respond by managing to break an enemy infantry brigade with canister fire (it ran off to HQ to try to rally!)
One of Beuaregard’s Confederate brigades is sent to the east across the Bull Run to try to go through the thick woods. The plan being to stop Heintzelman from making a flank attack.
To the west of Centreville, the Union were holding against the advancing forces of Johnston (who had heard the guns and marched across the river despite general orders to stop the Union crossing the Bull Run river).
In the centre, Tyler’s division manages to silence one enemy artillery brigade for a short time. They are unaware that ferocious fighting is happening in the woods to the east… but soon Beauregard’s stronger brigades push back the Union troops onto the doorstep of Miles’ men.
In the far east of the map, Heinzelman’s Union division is set upon by some of Beauregard’s brigades and mauled. They are pushed back northwards and actually leave the woods, outnumbered and fatigued.
Miles’s Union troops are still held in reserve between Tyler and Centreville. McDowell does not have the means to move them this turn (the Confederates have control of the Turn Clock again and bring the turn to an end before Miles can do anything). At the end of the turn they turn to face the new threat as Tyler’s men are now on their doorstep.
Johnston’s stronger force to the west pushes back Hunter’s static division toward Centreville.
More casualties stream back to the Union HQ’s. The presence of their General helps the situation, which is still confused.
Tyler and Miles try to hold back the stronger force of Beauregard but are slowly losing ground.
Heintzelman’s remaining troops are pushed ever closer to Centreville. The Confederates are relentless.
In the west, Johnston pushes Hunter all the way back to Mile’s and Tyler’s positions, making a blob of Union blue on the table.
The Union casualties are building up as even the presence of McDowell is not enough to stop a steady rout.
Bitter fighting ensues to the south of Centreville as Beauregard throws in his forces to the fray.
At this point, the Union have lost 5 units, bu the game is continued to “see what happens”.
The beleaguered Union troops are pushed back and lose more brigades.
Beauregard looks on. Centreville is all but his now….
The Union were roundly battered and Centreville was contested. A solid victory to the Confederates.
I realised after the game that I had been getting the return fire rules wrong and missing out on a lot of defensive firing. However, from the outset, the Union seemed to be losing out on being able to manoeuvre and fight. They were always on the defensive. This is despite them having 13 Priority Points from their lone General. The biggest problem was that one general was trying to move four divisions and his Inept trait meant he could not just give them 3 points each and wait for “3” to be called and move everything. Some divisions just were not making moves. He really did look a bit … well… Inept (!)
Having one General meant it was hard to be in two places at once. For example, McDowell tried to move to support Heinzelman and use EOT adjustments to push those brigades quickly through the woods. But as soon as the first of Tyler’s brigades was broken by a shattering artillery canister barrage, McDowell was then needed at the HQ to help the unit to rally. Fortunately his Quartermaster trait allowed him to both move himself and the HQ to keep him as close to Heintzelman as possible. That didn’t work out in the long run, but don’t knock the use of the Quartermaster.
The Confederates had no such trouble. Beauregard kept himself close to his front line and also close to his HQ so he could move and rally if needed. Beauregard made use of his enforced EOT adjustment points well by throwing in close brigades.
I have to say the dice rolling was with the Confederates all the way this game. They won 6 of 8 Turn Clock dice rolls despite Union points being spent. Beauregard found himself in the front line at one point but rolled a 1 on the General Fate Table and simply trotted off a few inches back while no doubt being sainted by his men.
Shooting and close combat for the Union really whiffed. Poor dice rolling at the wrong times cost them, although in rally rolls, they did really well. A Few brigades did come back to fight again, but too late in the day to help.
Overall, a really good game that doesn’t have to take too long to play. I managed to get turns done in about 15 minutes with these small armies.
By the time you take all the traits and different order of battle into account, the spending of Priority points and planning really does go in mysterious ways.
And for Solo Gamers? Well, even if you can’t get a fog of war, then there is one simple way after deployment to help balance the fact you don’t have an opponent. At the start of turn 1, roll a dice for each side. The loser gets to plan his Priority Points first. Each turn after that, just swap the side that plans their points first (so it balances out in time).