The View From the Bunker a Brother Against Brother Before Action Report!06 May 2015 0
Most PC gamers – my sons included – impetuously eschew the manual in favor of diving right into the tutorial or the proceedings themselves. Not me! I want to slowly savor every inch of those printed pages, sometimes reading the instructions twice before daring to click on that “start” button.
There’s nothing quite like a well-written game manual complete with all the historical background necessary to better understand that particular military endeavor.
So since my Wargamer.com compatriots have already posted an excellent three-part Brother Against Brother after action report (see here), I thought we’d do something a little bit different this time. Applying my vast love of manuals, let’s go with a before action report because Western Civilization Software has incorporated a few of the features we’ve recently discussed into their fascinating game.
And it starts with the command structure rules which comprise the core of the game (pun intended!).
Beyond the North/South industrial disparity, we all know the outcome of the American Civil War depended heavily on who was in command. To wit, until Grant, Sherman and Sheridan showed up, the North wasn’t faring too well. And that leadership effect certainly went well beyond army commanders like Lee and Grant.
Take General George Henry Thomas, The Rock of Chickamauga, who single-handedly stopped that confrontation from becoming another Union rout. And who could forget Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s propitious 20th Maine charge that saved the Union’s Little Round Top left flank at Gettysburg?
Brother Against Brother makes a real effort to reflect that reality. Not only does each regiment come equipped with a commanding general, but they have three separate officer slots as well. Thus, if general is killed or wounded, the colonel, lieutenant colonel, or major will have to take over.
All commanders, most of whom are depicted by Civil War photographs, are rated for initiative, tactics, command, and leadership.
But as much as individual leaders matter, maintaining a cohesive corps to regiment command and communication structure is even more important. If your regimental or corps leaders are out of command, bad things happen, including missing movement orders, ignoring brigade order changes, and failing to change formation.
And speaking of brigade orders, each one of those groups is given an overarching command to either march, advance, assault, mass charge, rally, hold or withdraw, with each categories conferring specific bonuses and penalties.
Heading further down the command line, it is incumbent upon each regimental commander to literally make sure their troops are “ready” for battle because things won’t go well if they’re not. Regardless of whether they’re in command or not, units can “misinterpret” orders, a malady that particularly affects greener regiments.
Another fascinating facet of the BAB command structure is that corps commanders can order individual units to send scouts out to a specific location within a 10 hex radius. It’s an interesting way to penetrate the fog of war. Ah, but much like J.E.B Stuart’s cavalry adventure at Gettysburg, if a corps is out of command, the number of scouts it can generate and any subsequent intelligence gathered are cut in half.
I also really like the BAB morale rules which come in both a basic and advanced variety.
First and foremost, as eloquently described in the aforementioned three-part AAR, you have to keep your army’s average morale above a certain level to avoid instant defeat. You really have to be cognizant of that number at all times. The First Battle of Bull Run, the main BAB scenario, turned into complete Union route so if you push your soldiers too hard, you may lose the game by default!
As for the individual regiments, morale comes down to their current status which can include:
- Shaken – the unit retains its formation, but I wouldn’t be making ‘em charge anytime soon.
- Shocked – This status which harkens back to that training scene in the movie Glory. The first time a unit comes under artillery fire it can become “shocked,” which pins it in place without permanently affecting its morale. The greener the unit, the more likely it will become shocked.
- Panicked – panic is just like the shocked status, except unit’s the morale also drops precipitously.
- Surrendered – you can avoid adding to your opponent’s casualty victory total by choosing to surrender a unit before it can be wiped out. That said, surrendered units do count against your army’s overall morale rating.
Another thing I really like about BAB is units automatically fire at the closest enemy regiment within their forward firing arc. You all know I love my Tiller titles, but it always feels so unrealistic to be able to concentrate your fire on one enemy unit in an effort to get it to disrupt or break.
If you want to focus your firepower on one regiment in BAB you will have to maneuver your own units accordingly.
Though it’s only part of the advanced rules, BAB also delves into the skirmisher possibility with a serious set of advantages and disadvantages of using that formational tactic. I’ve rarely used skirmishers in any Civil War game because there never seems to be much merit to their deployment. But I may have to give them a shot in this one.
Another advance rule provides units with special abilities like steady, hearty, stalwart, dreaded etc. all of which convey various combat bonuses. Units can also have special attributes like a balloon, Gatling guns, or smokeless powder. (Small firearms smoke can affect the battlefield.)
All in all, the BAB manual is very well done. It flows nicely, it’s eminently readable, and I couldn’t find a single typo which is very unusual.
The game may be a little pricey at 50 bucks, and I wish there was more than one major scenario (I’m sure more will be forthcoming), but considering the thought and effort WCS put into this offering, it’s certainly worthy of your consideration.
I’ve always thought that commanding a Civil War battle was kind of like coaching youth soccer minus the casualties, which I did for four excruciatingly long years. You put your best guys out there and hope they follow the general game plan, but just in case, you put some fast folks on defense if you suddenly find your midfielders in the wrong place.
You fervently pray that your assistant coach catches what you miss and that the majority of your team follows your instructions. Meanwhile, you do your best to keep the players’ morale up and to rest them when they get tired.
And if you win, the credit goes to the team, but if you lose it’s always the coach’s fault.
And after reading the aforementioned AAR and the BAB manual, it looks like WCS has hit on a winning combination that doesn’t sacrifice realism for playability. I guess it’s time to press that start button!
Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up that copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1972. You can reach Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.