…. 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!
To make the creation of Hammerin’ Sickles an even more unusual story, this is actually my third game on Gettysburg. Absurd you say? Perhaps. My first game design was Gettysburg: The Wheatfield, about the never-before-gamed Wheatfield area and the second game was a solitaire game on Pickett’s Charge (In Magnificent Style), also a portion of the Gettysburg battle that (I believe) has never before been specifically represented in a game.
In the spirit of these first two efforts, Hammerin’ Sickles follows closely in their footsteps. After publishing Gettysburg: The Wheatfield, I was bombarded with requests to do further editions encompassing the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, the Slaughter Pen and Little Round Top. I quickly realized that there was an untapped demand for games on those specific engagements as, strangely enough, there are no games (or very few) covering in detail this string of iconic struggles on the second day of the battle. So it was obvious to me that, despite Gettysburg having been simulated ad nauseam, it still begged for some focused attention on certain important segments of the greater battle.
Thus was born Hammerin’ Sickles and its attention not only to General Longstreet’s actual assault that day but also to the overall controversy caused by General Sickles’ disobedience of orders and “initiative” to change his corp’s deployment immediately before that attack. This has sparked years of debate about why he did it and what effect his conduct had on the Battle of Gettysburg’s overall outcome. The game’s spotlighting of these actions allows us to fully explore the historical events surrounding the July 2nd attack as well as the myriad of “what ifs” generated by Sickles’ actions. And our efforts to cover previously untouched ground does not stop here. If Hammerin’ Sickles is published and successful, we plan to tackle another unstudied segment of the larger Gettysburg picture – Culp’s Hill. We are confident that gamers have been itching to play out this brutal battle, another specific struggle that has almost been totally ignored in the wargaming arena and is yet such an important piece of the Gettysburg puzzle. Culp’s Hill is admittedly a tough battle to recreate historically and a hard situation to make gameable, but what makes it possible for us to tread into such a dangerous gaming minefield is the Blind Swords tactical system.
The Blind Swords chit-pull system is another aspect of the Hammerin’ Sickles game design that sets it apart not only from published Gettysburg games but from all other tactical ACW game systems. Every regiment and battery is represented in the game at its historical strength, armed with its actual weapon type and rated for its overall experience and training level (called the Cohesion Rating in the game). But despite this level of detail in unit representation, the game system is not “fiddly” or tediously buried in minutiae. There are no unit formations and no deployment facing issues to worry about. We assume that the regimental colonels and battery commanders basically know what they are doing and will deploy their men appropriately for the situation in which they find themselves. If they didn’t do so, this is simply simulated by the making a bad die roll and suffering the consequences of your colonel’s bad decision.
In addition, the basic maneuver element in the game is the brigade. The brigade is the parent formation of the Civil War – it is the level at which units identified themselves and was their source of pride. The most famous units of the American Civil War (with some notable exceptions) were known by their brigade affiliation – the Irish Brigade, the Iron Brigade, the Stonewall Brigade, etc. Regimental units are activated in the game as brigade maneuver units and there are many subtle advantages built into the game mechanics to encourage players to keep their brigades as closely together as possible. Such brigade deployments are not mandated by the rules but you’ll find that most of the time keeping your brigade in close proximity will give your troops a big edge in the game.
Also, Hammerin’ Sickles does not have any leader counters on the map. Commanders at the Corps, Division and Brigade levels are represented within the chit draw mechanic. Again, we assume that commanders will be at the best place for their command at the best time. If not, this error in judgement on their part is reflected in an inopportune chit pull. Therefore, there are no extra dozen leader pieces to keep track of or from which command range must be measured to other units – that is all handled abstractly within the system and thus keeps the clutter and micro-managing to a minimum.
So the game system does provide the player with the visceral thrill of moving regiments and batteries around the map, each with a unique character and ability (each with its own personality, if you will) without the need for an additional ten pages of rules on detailed unit management mechanics. The ACW wargamer’s need to feel an integral part of his army and be able to see and “feel” all those wonderful, colorful regiments on the field of battle, performing as brigade maneuver elements, is sated but without the headache-inducing need to worry about what every company had for breakfast that morning, the condition of their shoes and what direction they are facing.
Another aspect of the design where we’ve cut out the extra “fat” is with the unit orders system. There are no lengthy, hand-written orders that need to be issued requiring precise language in order to convey intent. No pages of additional steps and die rolls to check if orders made it or not. No arguments between players about orders interpretation. Instead, one of four basic orders is chosen by the player at the time of brigade activation and each order has simple parameters that allow certain actions and disallows others. You want to assault the opponent and take his position? Issue an Attack order. You want to march quickly to a particular position? Order a Maneuver. You want to hold your position and allow your men to reorganize a bit? Issue a Defend order. You want to rally and reform your beaten up brigade? Order Regroup. And we still do allow for the occasional mistaken order, delayed courier, etc. with a simple “Confused Orders” event chit that can be played against the opponent (if you have it at hand at the right time). Simple and realistic.
The Hammerin’ Sickles combat resolution system is another aspect that features variety with simplicity. When Fire Combat or Close Combat is conducted, four differently-colored dice are rolled at once. This one dice roll will tell you all that you need to know about the combat result (except if a Break Test is required, then one additional die is rolled). The dice roll tells the story of the combat in detail – who takes casualties, whose morale is affected, who runs low on ammunition and who needs to retreat. It will even let you know if panic overtakes the other units in the hex or if the combat’s effect is wide spread enough to cause problems in the adjacent hex! There are so many different things that can happen with the one dice roll that players are on edge with each such roll. The combat possibilities are quite extensive and challenge players to make the best out of the battle situation as it evolves. Again – detail without work – theme without difficulty – immersion without volumes of special procedures.
Finally, the system incorporates the “fog-of-war” without resorting to a tome of hidden movement and limited intelligence special rules. Instead of not knowing what the enemy has physically on the map, it’s rather a matter of the player not being able to do what he wants unless conditions are just right. This not only recreates the fog-of-war very realistically, but makes for a very exciting game. Players must constantly pay attention and be ready to act – and react – at every instant.
The addition of “Fog of War”, “Fortunes of War” and “A Lull in the Battle” chits add to the inherent unknown quantity of what is coming next. It is this constant need to think on your feet and the required readiness for that next chit pull that produces the game’s “fun anxiety”. The unpredictability of the gameplay – not an indecipherable, lengthy rulebook – is what emits the “fog” that gamers must deal with. Despite the fact that both players can see their opponent’s units and their conditions, the system is built so that you cannot necessarily take advantage of that knowledge at all times.
An added feature of the chit pull mechanic is that the availability of one’s own units is as much a mystery as that of the enemy’s units! For example, when a Division Activation chit is drawn, the player may select just one brigade to activate from that division (one that has not already been activated). The player must select carefully as there may not be an opportunity to activate the other brigades of that division if things go wrong. When the selected brigade finishes its activation, the player must roll a die to test the Command Rating of the division leader. If the test is passed, the Division Activation chit goes back into the cup and thus offers the player the opportunity to select another brigade from that division when that chit is drawn again later in the turn.
If the test is failed, the chit is removed from play and the remaining brigades must depend on the play of certain Event chits or the drawing of the important “CIC” chit to be able to act this turn. Thus, players must choose the best moves and actions at each moment, not knowing whether they will get a chance to activate more of the division’s units later on in the turn. By the same token, the system can also allow the player the opportunity to choose a single brigade to do a multiplicity of actions in one turn, thus providing him the chance to create a spearhead brigade for his other forces.
So yes – another Gettysburg game. But we hope you agree, not just another Gettysburg game. We’ve attempted to make Hammerin’ Sickles a different type of gaming experience about a series of military clashes that are rarely focused upon. It has always been my design philosophy to produce games on unique subjects and with simple, fun and somewhat unorthodox mechanics. My developer Fred Manzo is also a supporter of this approach and together we hope that this game demonstrates the best of that modus operandi. So onward to the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and let’s find out if poor old Sickles gets hammered once again.