Wednesday, 11 December 2013

November Gaming: A House Divided

Not a huge amount of gaming happened in November; real life and whatnot.  I did manage a couple of games in at the club though, the first of which was A House Divided, a board game by Frank Chadwick.  I can't remember the current publisher, but this is apparently the fourth edition of the game.

AHD is a strategic wargame, re-fighting the American Civil War in it's entirety (and beyond if you prefer.) The game board consists of a network of strategic locations, either cities, towns or forts, with a web of roads, rivers and railway lines connecting them.  The game plays out in month long spring summer turns and two month autumn winter turns.

April 1862, look at all those blue tokens, must be going well for the Union.

Each turn, a player has a specific amount of activations he can make, moving or entrenching units, initiating battles and so on.  The movement mechanics are nice and simple, reflecting the importance of rail and river travel (particularly for the Union player in the latter case.)  The fact you can't move a whole lot of units in one turn, unless they are all stacked together as an army, means you can't redeploy strategically very quickly; you have to plan what you're going to do and build towards that carefully.

Combat is an extremely straightforward affair, purely dice based, with two hits needed to eliminate a token. There are still a number of tactical options for each side, with options to reinforce or retreat from the combat or to entrench a position.  After each successful combat, the victor can promote one of his units to a higher quality, from militia to veteran or from veteran to crack.  A slight niggle here is that for each battle, you pick all the involved units off the board and line them up separately, this kind of grated on me for a while, but I can't think of a better way it could be implemented.

The sideboard, tokens and battle area.  Exciting stuff!

The token count has been very specifically balanced to reflect the disparity in manpower between the two sides.  As a result the Confederate player has to be aggressive to promote his units to a higher quality, thereby making the lower quality token available for recruitment. On the other hand, the Union player automatically drafts new militia units every April, in addition to those he can recruit during the year.

Play alternates between the two players for the five years of the war until one side emerges victorious.  The Union win by either capturing Richmond or enough other bases to force a win (actually I think I'm forgetting one here.)  The Confederacy win by either capturing Washington or by simply avoiding defeat until May 1865.

We chose to play one of the year scenarios, as time was a bit limited, opting for 1862. Deployment was fixed with heavy concentrations around Washington and Richmond, the Union holding Kentucky and with a small force entrenched in Fort Monroe.  Victory and defeat for this scenario is calculated in the difference between the maximum possible army sizes for each side, calculated by the number of large cities each side controls - essentially this means "how much ground can the confederates take?"  Alternatively, if either side lost their capital, the game would be over too.

For some reason, I took a picture of the rulebook too.

I took the role as the Union commander, keeping my capital swarming with troops while simultaneously building up forces for a naval expedition down the coast (Will it worked for McClellan, didn't it?)  For the hell of it, we also had a push down from Kentucky against what looked like weak opposition.

Adam had the Confederate command and played a much more cagey game in the early turns. All the Confederate militia tokens were on the map, so the only way they could recruit new troops was to promote some milita to veterans, freeing up the militia tokens for the recruitment phase.  Adam did this by harrassing some of my isolated units and forming up to resist my Western push.

My push soon turned into a rout.  With no choice to retreat in the face of much better troops than my own, I launched the naval expedition, taking a couple towns, but not doing nearly enough to avoid the complete defeat I suffered.  This continued the fine tradition I have at the club of introducing new games and then losing heavily at them.

March 1863.  Errr, how did that happen?  And where the fuck have all my guys gone!?!

The box comes with two sets of rules, basic and advanced rules.  The former, beyond learning the basic mechanics really have no depth to them.  The advanced set are a little more meaty, but not complex at all (particularly by the standards of a GMT game.)  The second half of the advanced rules section cover the optional rules players can choose to use (in part or all of them, there are about twenty five or so to select.)  I'm not a big fan of this kind of choice in a game, it makes me think the designers couldn't decide what to include, so put everything in and make the players decide.

As AHD is in it's fourth edition, I think this is a nice nod to the previous incarnations of the game and, with a handy chart to help you, picking what rules you want is pretty straightforward.  There is a huge amount to choose from; I won't go into them all, but some of my favourites are the draft riots 1863,naval assaults and the Grant/Lee rules.  Additionally, there are rules for hypothetical situations like a Confederate navy or European recognition of the Confederacy and subsequent military aid.

I have to say I think A House Divided is an outstanding game.  Well balanced and atmospheric, it was also really fun, despite my horrendous loss.  The year we played took about ninety minutes, although with some fannying about going on;  we're both keen to arrange an afternoon or evening where we can play the whole war through to a finish.  A final point, this game cost me a tenner, from IGUK earlier this year.  The price was heavily reduced, but this is easily the best value purchase I've made all year.  Recommended.

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