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PART 1: – Introduction and First Game Turn
Hammerin’ Sickles: Longstreet Attacks at Gettysburg recently “made the cut” on the GMT P500 and Fred and I are very thankful for the support from the gaming community. We thought it would be a good time to give a brief run-through of the game and show how a typical game flows. The tutorial scenario – “The Round Tops” – depicting the fight for both Big and Little Round Tops is a compact, quick-playing vehicle to help demonstrate the Blind Swords system in general and Hammerin’ Sickles in particular.
First, let’s do a brief overview of how the system works. Blind Swords is a chit-pull mechanic system with some interesting twists. Before each turn, players will “load” the chit-pull cup with Division Activation Chits (one for each Division involved in the game), some Event Chits (more on those later), a Fog-of-War Chit (which will generate forced random moves and leader casualties), a Fortunes-of-War Chit (which will cancel the next chit drawn from the cup) and the CIC Chits (which allow the player to select any Brigade to activate in his army, even for a second time). In the longer scenarios, there is also a Lull in the Battle Chit which will speed play and simulates the forces becoming tired and hesitant as the battlefield has evolved into a chaotic, smoky and unmanageably-tangled landscape. All these chits are placed into the same cup and drawn by either player.
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“It is difficult to think of a great passage of arms in which one critical day of battle was so strangely – and so soon – underscored by another” – David Ascoli, author of A Day of Battle
On the evening of Tuesday, August 16th 1870, the battlefield of Mars-la-Tour looked much like countless other battlefields of history. The devastation spread from the Yron River valley in the west almost to Gravelotte on the eastern end of the field. Physical destruction and human sorrow was prevalent and overwhelming throughout the length and breadth of this deadly ground. After the exceptionally brutal “day of battle”, about 33,000 casualties had been inflicted on the two armies – roughly equally split – and both forces were spent. Superficially, the battle was a draw when scoring by a measure of raw casualties or relative field position of the combatants. But in actuality, this was an astounding Prussian victory and a near-miraculous outcome considering the odds against them at the start of the day. The Prussian 2nd Army of Prince Frederick Charles had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and Marshal Bazaine’s French Army of the Rhine had no one to blame but themselves.
German period map showing troops positions of all three battles around Metz – August 14th (Borny-Colombey), August 16th (Mars-la-Tour) and August 18th (Gravelotte-St.Privat)
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At Any Cost P500 Page
“The tragedy is that, obsessed with avoiding defeat, he was blind to a beckoning victory.” – David Ascoli, author of A Day of Battle, referring to French Marshal Francois Bazaine
The Battle of Mars-la-Tour was fought on August 16th, 1870 and is considered to be one of the more remarkable battles of military history. Not only were the circumstances under which it was fought most singular, but its impact on the future of Europe was monumental. The importance of the engagement on that “day of battle” alone makes it ripe for study in the wargaming community, having had such a significant impact on the rise of the German Empire and the fall of Napoleon III’s Second French Empire. Yet, the very uniqueness and oddity of that “murderous day” make it almost impossible to simulate accurately on the game board. Such was the challenge that Fred Manzo and I decided to take on with the design of the Mars-La-Tour scenario for At Any Cost: Metz 1870. So how does At Any Cost attempt to accurately simulate such an odd and convoluted battle? Well, let me tell you ……
The French army in the summer of 1870 was already in full retreat after its first series of engagements. A significant portion of the French Army of the Rhine was defeated at the Battle of Spicheren by parts of the Prussian First and Second Armies and being pursued, albeit loosely, to the fortress town of Metz. Without the possibility of any support, the French army huddled around the fort as it decided its next course of action. Emperor Napoleon III, pressured to return to Paris in order to deal with various defeatist political issues, turned over command of the Army of the Rhine to Marshal Achilles Bazaine. Not his first choice, Bazaine nonetheless reluctantly took the reins from Napoleon and received his final, somewhat contradictory, instructions – protect the army under all circumstances and get it to Verdun and Chalons to rejoin the Emperor to form a new army.
These multiple and divergent goals are reflected in the game’s Victory Track mechanic. The French player must not only try to open his retreat route to Verdun by capturing key towns and map edge hexes, but he must do so without losing too many units or – even worse – being cut off from Metz. The Prussians don’t need to worry about casualties at all and simply strive to take important towns on the map that threaten the French army’s position and thwart its mission.
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…. Hammerin’ Sickles, a regimental-scale Gettysburg game!
What? You say you already own a dozen Gettysburg games? And you currently have a multitude of games with all sorts of different tactical American Civil War systems? I suspect that a lot of gamers think this idea is ridiculous – why would a designer waste his time spitting out another game on probably the most-gamed battle ever? But in all honesty, we feel Hammerin’ Sickles is a truly different breed of Gettysburg game and a different species of wargaming animal.
I’m well aware that almost all designers claim they have a unique take on things, and for the most part I think they are all absolutely right. There are many fine Gettysburg designs out there – most unique in their own right and darn fun to play. But what makes Hammerin’ Sickles a singular experience is its focused subject matter (Longstreet’s attack on the second day of the battle) and the way we’ve incorporated tactical ACW combat, command control issues and “fog-of-war” into one fairly easy system. How did we do all that? Well, I’m glad you asked!
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August 16th marks the anniversary of the Battle of Mars-la-Tour and August 18th the anniversary of the Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, both fought in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. These two battles were titanic struggles, yielding approximately 60,000 casualties in total. Both battles were tremendously important military events when placed into proper historical perspective. In fact, Bismarck himself stated that the Battle of Mars-la-Tour – “beyond argument” – decided not only the Franco-Prussian War, but the future of Europe as well. The subsequent Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, two days later, sealed that fate by locking the French Army of the Rhine into its tomb at the Metz fortress. These battles simultaneously killed an aging French Empire and gave birth to a new German Reich.
Two such important battles fought in a war that, despite its undeniable influence on European and world history, seems to garner little attention or enthusiasm in the wargaming community. Aside from the obvious historical importance of the conflict, most of the battles were hard-fought, brutal affairs with the Prussians suffering the majority of the losses. Yet most gamers hold to the prevalent misconception that all Franco-Prussian War games are “slam dunks” for the Prussians. At the grand-strategic level, this may be true. The Prussian Army at this time was an efficient war machine that was well-prepped, well-led and confident after mauling the Austrians in 1866. Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the Prussian General Staff, was a master strategist and well-served by the talented General Staff. Moltke grabbed the initiative and outmaneuvered a lethargic and ill-prepared French Emperor Napoleon III and his “laissez-faire” generals. The French army in 1870 lived in the shadow of its former glory and its elite reputation was still alive around the world (particularly in the U.S.). Realistically, however, the French aura of military power and superior generalship was a mere facade. So indeed, on the grand-strategic tier alone, the Franco-Prussian War was probably a mismatch. Yet, most wargames that have been published about this war have covered it exactly at that level – a scale at which the game is unavoidably unbalanced in favor of the Prussians and their German allies.
The P500 Program is a core aspect of how we run our business, allowing you guys – our customers – to tell us what you want us to produce. P500 also helps us fund that production upfront, so that cash flow, a notorious killer of companies, is almost never an issue for us. When a new game is added to our P500 list, if it is a series game or a game that was designed by a designer who has a track record of doing successful games for us, that game tends to rise up the list fairly rapidly. But a game that is not part of a current popular series by a designer who is new to you guys, well THAT game may have some trouble gaining traction on P500.
Andy Lewis and I have been working with Hermann Luttmann for about a year now, planning a couple of game lines from him that we think are going to be really well-liked by our customers. Although Hermann is not a rookie designer (One of his designs is what is so far my favorite of all the State of Siege games for VPG) he was mostly an unknown quantity to GMT customers when we added two of his games – At Any Cost: Metz 1870 and Hammerin’ Sickles: Longstreet Attacks at Gettysburg – to the P500 list in May. Since then, Hermann has been very active in creating interest and supporting his games among online gaming communities, especially Consimworld and BGG. And his games ARE getting notice and orders, with orders at 350 and 320 for At Any Cost and Hammerin’ Sickles, respectively. But like virtually all designers with games new to the P500 list, Hermann has learned that the process is not automatic and that getting one’s game noticed amidst of sea of well-known and popular designs in a fundamentally difficult undertaking. So when we talked about Hermann’s first contribution to our InsideGMT blog, we thought an article about his insights into the process might be interesting.
One of our goals with InsideGMT is to provide a vehicle where you guys can, over time, really get to know our designers and the process. I’m really looking forward to you guys getting to know Hermann, as he is what Andy calls “one of our kind of guys” – talented and interesting, committed to his craft and to making his games both historically accurate and accessible to gamers. He is also a guy who has that winning mix of a designer who pays immense attention to detail yet is very easy to work with, a real positive addition to any team. So I’m thrilled that Hermann is creating designs for us, and can’t wait for the day when we produce his first two GMT games. Here’s Hermann. Enjoy! – Gene