article to appear in the next issue of Volunteers!
This spring, the Avalon Hill Game Company will unveil "On to Richmond!", the sixth member of the award winning "Great Campaigns of the American Civil War" series. It is the first game to depict all phases of the Peninsula campaign launched by General George McClellan in early 1862. The game includes seven Basic Game scenarios and an Advanced Game presenting players with all of the key strategic options during the four-month campaign.
This volume is the most extensive treatment of a civil war campaign presented so far in the Great Campaign series. The components include two brand new maps, stretching from Richmond and Petersburg in the west to Urbana and Yorktown in the east. The rulebook and counter set have been expanded beyond the size found in previous games. The rules are divided into two 32-page rule booklets (one basic and one advanced) and the game possesses three full counter sheets with updated graphics. New terrain types have been introduced to the series for the game: two types of swamps, ferries, dams, redoubts, and naval batteries. Naval operations are now covered, allowing players to move units amphibiously and to utilize gunboats in offensive and defensive roles. Furthermore, the naval operations play a key strategic role in the campaign with the destruction of the USS Monitor or CSS Virginia carrying a severe victory point penalty and impacting future naval capabilities.
In designing a Peninsula campaign game, the question asked most often concerns the performance of General McClellan. "But how will you handle McClellan's cautious nature and tendency to wildly overestimate the strength of the enemy?" was a question heard repeatedly by On to Richmond's two-person design team: Joe Balkoski and Ed Beach. Our approach to this issue was the key element of the design of the Advanced Game scenario and will be the focal point for this article.
The Advanced Game for On To Richmond! presented a huge challenge simply due to its length. With a time scale of one-day per turn, the Peninsula campaign works out to a whopping 112 turns! With turns that can take up to an hour to play, keeping the campaign playable in a single weekend was our biggest challenge.
The answer to this dilemma lay in a close analysis of the campaign. McClellan had four periods of tremendous activity during these months, sandwiched around three lulls that stretched up to a full month in length. The game design would need some reasonable mechanism to simulate these periods of inactivity without crippling the Union player's chances of marching into the Confederate capital. Furthermore, the conventional movement and activation systems from the game series would need to be altered to streamline routine operations.
To meet this need, a new "strategic movement" action has been introduced for units that are not moving within 10 hexes of an enemy unit. This action allows the unit to complete a full day's movement without having to roll any dice to determine distance moved. One complete day of railroad or amphibious movement are also possible in a single action. Play is quicker than in previous campaigns, with less emphasis on die rolling and more on strategic decision making.
The historical lulls are recreated using the special Advanced Game rules for Union Command Posture. Throughout the game, this posture swings between "active" and "passive". Once a week, during a set of special end-of-week activities called the "Strategic Cycle", the Union player is given the opportunity to change from a passive command posture to an active one (or vice versa). In order to enter an active posture, the Union player must have saved a "Command Point" to expend at this time. Command points arrive via a strategic-level random event, rolled for earlier in the Strategic Cycle. Typically the Union player should be able to enter an active posture for about half of the game.
While in an active posture, all game activities proceed normally. It is in the passive posture that new rules have been introduced to speed play. In this posture, the Confederate player can end a turn whenever there is a tie roll for initiative (one-sixth of the time). There are several incentives built in to encourage the Confederate to end the turn, causing the game to rapidly accelerate during these passive weeks. This mechanic has held up well during playtesting, slowing the Union player's advance on the capital to a historical pace. Yet the design does not leave the Union player's fate wrapped in the hands of a random event table. Rather it is the Union player that can dictate the ebb and flow of his offensive, spending command points whenever the situation is right for a further push toward Richmond.
The Union player also drives the course of the game through his selection of a route to Richmond. As the first action of the campaign, the Union player must select one of four possible landing sites for his initial invasion. He must ask himself if he should land at Fort Monroe and make the historical push up the Peninsula or perhaps follow McClellan's original plan for landing at Urbana and taking a more northern route. In fact, during playtesting, at least five unique paths to the capital have been pursued, each with their own merits based on the disposition of Confederate units and the events of the campaign to date.
To meet this threat, the Confederate player can draw on forces from across the Eastern Theater. Stonewall Jackson can be recalled from the Valley, Benjamin Huger withdrawn from Norfolk, and additional troops brought by rail from the Carolinas. But there are downsides to any of these actions. Abandoning Norfolk means the loss of the ironclad Virginia, while recalling Jackson from the Shenandoah frees up nearly 40,000 men under Union general McDowell to join the campaign.
McClellan's Grand Campaign brought Union forces within six miles of Richmond and could have easily ended the war in its second year. Yet no previous game has allowed players to relive this campaign in detail. With "On to Richmond!", the swamps of the Chickahominy and the heights of Malvern Hill can come alive again with the fate on the Confederate capital lying in the balance.
-- Ed Beach
This article copyright by Ed Beach and Volunteers!
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