THE ROUND TOPS – Hammerin’ Sickles in Action (Part 1)

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    HS Image 1PART 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.

    When drawn, each chit has a distinctive function. The Division Activation Chit tells the owning player that he may attempt to activate any previously un-activated Brigade in the Division. Each chit has a Command Rating for the Division commander and the player rolls a die – if less than or equal to the rating, the Brigade may be activated normally; if greater than the rating, the Brigade may only activate on a limited bases (in that case, it may only fire at adjacent enemy units). Event Chits are the chits that really tell the story of the battle (the thematic “flavor”) and can both hurt and help the players.

    First of all, before the game turn even starts, each player may select any one Event Chit that he really wants to appear during the turn (though even this is not guaranteed due to the presence of the Fortunes-of-War Chit) and places it directly into the cup. Then the remaining Event Chits are shuffled (face-down) and a number (depending on the scenario) are randomly removed from the turn. The rest are placed into the cup. So players can never be sure which Event chits will appear each turn, except for the one that they pre-selected. When drawn, an Event Chit represents a particular occurrence during the battle which can help the owning player or hurt the opponent. Each Event has its own rules for implementation and we’ll explain those during the report.

    In the larger scenarios, Event Chits can also be used for their Command Event effect, which is an operational level circumstance that can affect the game other than immediately on the battlefield (such as hastening the arrival of reinforcements, higher-level command ability, etc.). The Fog-of-War Chit forces a die roll on the related table and that can cause all sorts of mayhem – one-hex advances or retreats (that are chosen by the opponent) and leader casualties. This chit covers all those historical instances of inexplicable charges, cowardly retirements, misidentified forces, the effects of smaller detachments, etc., along with allowing for the possible game-changing loss of a general. The Fortunes-of-War Chit simply adds another chaotic element to the system (and makes sure that nothing is guaranteed), while the CIC Chits allow the players to select any Brigade to activate and thus no Brigade can be counted out of the game (even if it’s already been activated). These last two chit types, along with the Lull in the Battle Chit, are not used in this small scenario but we thought you’d like to know about them nonetheless.

    Fully activated Brigades must select one of four Orders, each of which has a set of parameters controlling what the active units may do that turn (Attack, Defend, Maneuver or Regroup). Regiments are then each activated and conduct actions (if allowed by their Order) in the following sequence: Fire Combat, Movement, Close Combat and Rally. It is important to note that Fire Combat comes before Movement and thus desired firefights must be set up one turn in advance.

    Regiments only have two values on them: their Strength Points (SPs) to the left in black (1 SP = 50 men) and their Cohesion Rating (CR) to the right in red (which is a general ability rating and signifies the unit’s training, experience and morale).

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    So, on to the “The Round Tops” scenario! The units are set up as prescribed by the scenario instructions (see Scenario Setup picture, below). The Confederates are approaching Big Round Top (BRT) from the lower slopes, with only the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters skirmishing between them and the summit, and are also advancing up from the “Valley of Death” toward Little Round Top (LRT). The 4th Maine is deployed against them in the valley while Vincent’s brigade is marching up LRT, trying to get into position to defend it. The scenario begins on the 4:20 turn and ends after six Game Turns with the 6:00 turn (each game turn represents about 20 minutes). The victory conditions are pretty simple – the side that controls both of the summit hexes on LRT (hex #3116 and 3117) wins the game. If the sides each control just one of those hexes, it’s a draw. The one other caveat is that the Confederates must occupy BRT (hex #3223) at some point in the game or they cannot win (this is to simulate the fact that the Rebels were ordered to occupy Big Round Top, but then soon found it fairly worthless). The scenario is played normally, except as noted previously regarding the unused chits. In addition, most scenarios make all of their eleven Event Chits available to each side, but because this scenario is so small, each side only has the use of five pre-selected Event Chits. Also, because there are so few Brigades in this game, there is no Command Rating used – if a Division Activation Chit is drawn, the Brigade gets a full activation automatically. As far as reinforcements are concerned, the Union player will get Hazlett’s artillery battery at 5:00 and the 140th New York (from Weed’s Brigade) at 5:20. The Confederates will get the 48th Alabama at 5:20 (historically it had just helped defeat the Union forces at Devil’s Den).

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    Scenario Setup

    Before Turn #1, the Birney, Barnes and Hood Division Activation Chits are placed in the cup (these are the Division leaders of each of the starting Brigades for both sides) along with the Fog-of-War Chit. Each player (Fred is the Union, I’m the Confederates) then selects the Event Chit he definitely wants in the cup (called the Key Chit). I pick the Brigade Reserve Move (to get a free march with Law’s men on BRT) and Fred picks Quick March (to get Vincent’s troops into position faster). We both each then take our remaining four Events Chits, mix them up and randomly place two each into the cup. We place the two remaining Event Chits off to the side and out play for this turn.

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    The Situation at Big Round Top

    HS IMage 5The first chit drawn is the Union Heroic Stand Event Chit, which will allow the Union player to alter the results (to varying degrees) of any Skedaddle Test result (more on that later as well). Fred holds on to the chit for later use.

    HS Image 6The next chit drawn is the Rebel Yell Event Chit for – well – the Rebel player, of course! This chit allows the Confederate player to move any one Rebel unit forward one hex and then attack a Union-occupied hex in Close Combat. I move the 4th Texas up one hex and assault the 4th Maine in the “Valley of Death”. The Maine unit gets to issue Defensive Fire first and misses everything. The Texans then resolve the Close Combat and get favorable shifts for their superior Cohesion Rating, 3-2 ratio in SP strength and for using the Rebel Yell chit.

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    I roll four differently-colored dice (black/white/red/blue) on the 17-19 column of the CRT and roll a “66” with the black/white dice. This is the best roll you can get and it results in a Severe Cohesion Test for the Maine boys.

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    I then read the other two dice I originally rolled with the black and white dice – the red one will tell us if the target unit is Depleted (represented physical casualties) and the blue one is the Skedaddle die and will tell us if the unit takes any Morale Hits, needs to Retreat and if there is a Panic.

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    In this case, I rolled a red “2” (the Maine unit is Depleted and flipped to its reduced-strength side) and a blue “2” (a Morale Hit, Retreat 2 hexes and a Panic Check). Not only that, but since a “doubles” was rolled with the red and blue dice, a Crisis Result also occurs! Fred decides that this is the perfect time to play his Heroic Stand chit. He discards the chit and rolls one die against the 4th Maine CR – he rolls a “6”, which is greater that the CR. This means that the unit can only cancel the Retreat portion of the Skedaddle result but not the Morale Hit or Panic/Crisis Results.  He gives the 4th Maine a “Shaken” marker for the Morale Hit, which reduces both its SP and CR numbers by one each. There are no friendly units around that can be affected by the Panic or Crisis results so nothing further is done for this combat.

    HS Image 10The next chit drawn is the Hood Division Activation Chit, which means I can select either of Hood’s Brigades (Law or Robertson) to activate. I choose Law and place the Hood chit back into the cup (because he still has an un-activated Brigade remaining). I announce a Maneuver Order and all three of Law’s units may spend up to 7 Movement Points, but may not conduct combat nor move adjacent to a formed enemy unit (they may advance on the US Sharpshooters because they are in Skirmish Order). The units advance up BRT, pushing the sharpshooters back (the effect of a unit being in Skirmish Order is that it forces an enemy unit moving adjacent to spend an extra MP to enter that hex, but the skirmishers must then fall back one hex). That finishes Law’s activation and we draw a new chit.

    HS Image 11The Union Quick March Event Chit is pulled and Fred holds this to the side until he activates. This chit will allow any active Brigade to increase its Movement Allowance by 50%, but at the cost of the chance of stragglers (represented by one moving unit being flipped over to its reduced-strength side).

    HS Image 12Next is the Rebel Firefight chit, which can be played anytime between chit pulls, and allows the owning player to choose any of his units to “challenge” an enemy unit in a firefight. The chit-playing unit fires first and applies results immediately. But if the enemy does not retreat from that fire, it may freely return fire! I decide to play the chit immediately on the 4th Texas to fire at the 4th Maine. I achieve a Tough test result but the Maine boys roll well and stand firm! They fire back at the Texans but do not cause any damage. The men are nervous and firing high!

    HS Image 10The next chit is the Hood chit again and I obviously select Robertson’s Brigade to activate. This time the Hood chit is removed from play as both his Brigades have now been activated. Both of Robertson’s units are activated – and yes, even though the 4th Texas has charged and fired at the enemy already this turn, it may be activated normally because Event Chit activity does not count as a unit being activated! This way, no unit can ever be counted out of a turn (or counted in, for that matter). I choose an Attack Order to continue the pressure on the Union position in the valley. I first fire with the 4th Texas at the 4th Maine, continuing the developing grudge match between these two units. The Texans blast away at the shaken, depleted and unsupported Maine regiment whose Cohesion Rating is down to “0” (CR of “2” on its reduced side, a “-1” for the “Shaken” marker and another “-1” for being Unsupported). A brief note on the concept of Unit Support – if a unit is adjacent to a good-morale unit from the same Brigade, it is “supported” and maintains its’ printed Cohesion Rating. If it’s not supported, its’ CR is reduced by one. Pretty simple, but a major caveat is that units can never be supported nor give support if they are located in a Woods or Rocky Woods hex (which covers an expansive and important portion of this battlefield).

    The Rebs score another Tough Cohesion Test result with their Fire Combat and this time the Maine boys can’t keep it together. They get another Depleted result from the red die and since they are already on their reduced-strength side, they must take a Break Test.

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    A Break Test is a straight die roll against the unit’s CR – unfortunately for Fred, this unit’s “0” CR will guarantee a break. He rolls a “6” which is “3+ More Than CR” and therefore places the unit directly into the Broken 3 box on the Broken Track. There are three Broken Track boxes in which shattered units are placed – the higher the number, the worse the result. At the end of each turn, units located on this track are moved one box down until they eventually reach the Available for Rebuild box. Once there, the owning player can attempt to bring the unit back into the game by using a Rebuild action, which is only possible if the owning Brigade is under a Regroup Order. So, the 4th Maine breaks and disintegrates from the field of battle. After the Fire Combat is resolved, I move both Texas regiments up a couple of hexes (the Attack Order allows 5 MPs of movement) and their activation ends.

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    Vincent’s Brigade

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    I next draw the Barnes Division Activation Chit, which allows Fred to activate Vincent’s Brigade. The Barnes chit is removed from play (he only has one Brigade in this scenario) and Fred chooses a Maneuver Order.  He also plays his held Quick March chit to enhance the Brigade’s movement ability. The four Union units of Vincent’s Brigade can move 10 MPs (7 MPs for the Maneuver Order + 50% from the Quick March chit, rounded down). Vincent’s men move up and over LRT and occupy positions on the opposite slopes, facing the Confederate advance. Fred must then roll to see if any moving unit loses stragglers (which would happen on a roll of 1 or 2 on one die), but the Union troops do not fallout.

    HS Image 16The next chit is the Union Confident Event Chit, which is only useful after a unit wins a Close Combat. It allows a victorious unit that drives off its opponent in melee to remove one Morale Hit from itself and, after advancing, to conduct another immediate Close Combat with a temporary bonus increase of +1 to its own Cohesion Rating! A great chit to have in hand at the proper time and in the right circumstance, but Fred has to simply hold this one, hoping for a remote chance to use it later this turn. Please note that in the larger scenarios, players can instead use Event chits for a Command Event application (especially chits like this one that are now basically worthless to the player at this point in the turn). All Event Chits have a “Command Event” side and are placed on the Command Event Track showing that reverse side. For example, in a bigger scenario Fred could have placed the chit on the Army of the Potomac Reinforcements Track to try and move his scheduled reinforcing units along faster. But in this tiny scenario, that option is not available.

    HS Image 17Out of the cup next is the Birney Division Activation Chit. Only one unit – the 2nd US Sharpshooters – remains from that Brigade, as the 4th Maine has been broken. The Birney chit is removed for the turn and Fred selects a Defend Order for the unit. It takes a very low percentage pot shot at Law’s 4th Alabama unit down slope but misses by a wide margin. It holds its ground, hoping to slow down the other two Alabama regiments from cresting BRT.

    HS Image 18I then draw the Confederate Brigade Reserve Move Event Chit, which would allow me to pick any group of units from the same Brigade (you’ll note that there are many subtle mechanics in the game that reward the maintenance of contact between regiments from the same brigade, thus no special leader units or command span rules are needed) and move them all up to 5 MPs (only – no combat is allowed). I choose the 15th Alabama and 47th Alabama units, as they are adjacent to each other and from the same Brigade, and move them up BRT.

    HS Image 19The last chit drawn is the Fog of War Chit. Fred immediately rolls a die, gets a “2” and consults the Fog of War Table.

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    This is an “Uncontrolled Union Withdrawal” result which allows me (the Confederate player) to move any one Union unit one hex further away from the closest Rebel unit to it. In this case I choose to leave Vincent’s Brigade units alone, as a one hex retreat there really doesn’t help me much. I instead push the 2nd US Sharpshooters unit back one hex further down the opposite side of BRT to make it easier for Law’s men to hit the peak next turn. As far as a historical narrative, this simulates the colonel independently deciding that his unit will give ground under the pressure from the Rebel advance, interpreting the tactical situation in front of him. In other words, regiments in Hammerin’ Sickles will often do things on their own initiative over which players have no control – dealing with the consequences is part of the game (and part of what the historical general had to deal with as well).

    That last chit empties the cup and the first turn is just about over. Players grab all their own Event Chits back to re-distribute them for next turn, the Game Turn marker is moved up one box to the 4:40 turn and any units on the Broken Track are moved up one box (so we move the 4th Maine from the Broken 3 box to the Broken 2 box).

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    End of Game Turn 1 Situation

    That ends the first installment of this report. With the next report, I’ll get you through the entire remainder of the scenario without all the rules and mechanics details (except where it is helpful and descriptive to do so) in order for you to see the general flow of the game.

    Thanks and I hope you enjoyed this report!

    Hermann Luttmann

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    7 thoughts on “THE ROUND TOPS – Hammerin’ Sickles in Action (Part 1)

    1. Hello Hermann,

      That is a very thorough and helpful account of the basics of the system in practice.

      The components look great; the map is really beautiful, and I hope the production version will be in the same style. The game play appears initially complicated, but it’s obviously been well thought through, and sounds like it gives realistic results.

      I’ve not played a system like this, with so many variables & possibilities, though I enjoy the chit pull mechanic (one of my favourite games is Panzer Command, which I believe introduced it) and it sounds like it will take some time to learn, but the mini-scenario is ideal for that purpose. Thanks for posting the play-through. I look forward to more.

      Incidentally, this was my second P500 selection; the first was At All Costs. It was your detailed descriptions on BGG that persuaded me to take the gamble.

      One question: the historical deployment of Sickles’ corps was of course contrary to orders. He was hammered for this in more than one sense. Does the game allow the Union player, i.e. Sickles, to be restrained from his second display of temporary insanity? (This would mean no fighting around the Peach Orchard, of course).


      • Thanks for the kind comments, Andrew!
        The system is a bit different and takes some getting used to. But I think you’ll find that after a couple of turns, it will click. It is a narrative-driven system and should generate some good ACW combat action and “feel” right.
        As far as our dear friend Sickles and his advance to that “higher ground”, there is a “what if” scenario that assumes that he does not do so and another where Longstreet launches earlier in the day and “around the right”.

        Thanks again!

    2. Dear Hermann – I thought I was on the list for playtesting Hammerin’ Sickles???? I never received
      any information on the game. Is it possible to still get in on the fun? This look at turn one is
      very exciting. If it is no longer possible to playtest, do you need someone to proofread the rules?

      Thanks, Mark

      • Hey Mark!
        You are still on the list – this is all still internal testing going on. Fred and I just came up with this small scenario, which serves as the system tutorial, and we decided it would be perfect to write about.
        I haven’t sent out any blind testing kits yet for either this game or At Any Cost. I’m trying to wait until we get some official GMT artwork so that the testers can also check the units and map, as well as the system. If it takes too long to get those done, we’ll send out these rougher kits just to get things moving along.
        Thanks again and yes – you can still get in on the fun!