Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Review and Summary of Pickett's Charge

David Brown of General de Brigade fame, recently released (a few months ago that is) his new American Civil War rules Pickett's Charge, available from the Too Fat Lardies website. As a fan of Mr. Brown's approach to miniatures rules, it'll be my pleasure to review these rules. In short, I think these rules are outstanding not only in gameplay, but in historical realism as well.


Scale is one of the first things I look for in rules to ensure that my collection matches up. Pickett's Charge utilizes a flexible approach to basing figures; the number of figures per base is up to the individual's the number of bases per unit that is important. Each base represents approximately 75 infantry or cavalry, while an artillery base equals two guns. As for figure scale, the rules allow for any size miniature, although movement and fire distances are designated in the rules for 15mm and 25mm figures.

As a fan of David Brown's earlier ACW rules, Guns At Gettysburg, I have to admit that it is refreshing to get away from a very strict figure ratio and focus on the number of bases per unit instead. Instead of counting figures on fire or melee charts, one only needs to know if a unit is considered small, standard, or large. The appropriate bonuses or negative modifiers are contained on the tactical charts. A large infantry unit, for example, would have more than 6 bases, while a small unit would have 4 or less bases.

As an example using my collection, each one of my units' bases has 3 figures. A standard unit would contain 5-6 bases, or 15-18 figures. This represents between 375 to 450 troops per unit.

Ground scale for 15mm figures is 1mm = 1 yard. As for time scale, the author is hesitant to define a specific number of minutes per turn. If I had to guess from the movement distances per turn, I would guess about 10-15 minutes per turn.

Unit Organization

The basic unit is an infantry regiment (or even a battalion for small units), cavalry regiment, and artillery battery. Units are organized into brigades, while a number of brigades are commanded by a commander-in-chief (or division commander). There are rules for deploying up to a corps on the table as well, with the corps commander acting as the CinC.

The rules also cover all appropriate unit formations including line, double line, skirmish, march column, dismounted cavalry, etc.

Brigadier General Hampton's brigade consisting of 4 regiments of infantry

The Game Turn

Each game turn consists of 4 phases: the Command Phase, Charges (including defensive fire and possible melees), Movement, and finally, the Fire Phase.

The Command Phase

Command and control is one of the most interesting aspects of Pickett's Charge. A CinC, depending on his rating, typically gains one ADC (Aide de Camp) per brigade in his command. At the beginning of the command phase, the availability of these ADC's are rolled for. Once the final number of ADC's is determined, the player must determine how to use these valuable assets. Assigning an ADC (or multiple ADC's) to a brigade can enable the brigade commander to execute specific functions. Examples of these include Double Quick movement, Re-roll of a brigade activation, Committing reserves, and Artillery assault fire (added chance of artillery fire bonuses with the chance of added fatigue). I won't go into every function that requires ADC's.....suffice it to say that this phase is very important and much thought is required to ensure a successful game.

After ADC's are placed, brigades must be rolled for activation. A brigade that passes its roll may conduct all movement, charges, and firing. A brigade that fails becomes "hesitant," which restricts the forward movement of all units as well as limiting fire arc. Hesitant brigades will ensure a challenging game for a player. For example, a well-placed ADC can supply a brigade activation re-roll, which may keep an important attack moving on a sector of the battlefield.

A brigade that suffers a routing or dispersed unit (or two "whipped" units) is considered "faltering," and its activation roll must occur on a special table. The brigade may end up following orders, it may retreat, or even rout ("catawamptiously chewed up").

In addition, details like command distance, optional "fog of war" cards, and commander attachment are all covered in the rules.

At the end of the Command phase, initiative is rolled for with each CinC throwing 2d6 and subtracting  the number of "hesitant" brigades as a modifier.  The winner is the first phasing player in charge declaration, regular movement, and firing.

The Charge Phase

The phasing player (winner of the initiative) declares all charges while his opponent declares charge reactions (stand and fire, wheel and fire, evade, cavalry countercharge). Then, the second player declares charges. Charging units are moved towards their targets and defensive fire is conducted. At this point, charge reactions are rolled for; after modifiers are computed (morale class, defensive fire casualties, etc) each side rolls 2d6 with various results for either side. Only if the die rolls equal a tie does a melee occur. If this happens, each side will roll a number of "casualty dice" depending on the situation and the side which inflicts the most casualties wins the melee.

By the way, casualty dice are six-sided dice in which a rolled 4,5,or 6 equals a casualty. Besides melee, casualty dice can also be added in the Fire phase for certain conditions (ie large regiment, 12 pound smoothbore battery firing canister, etc).

The Movement Phase

After charges, charge reactions, and melees are conducted, the phasing player then moves all available units. Movement is formation-specific and distances are detailed in the movement chart. Units move strictly (as opposed to a flexible movement system like Black Powder), all oblique movement is completed by wheeling and are prohibited from coming closer than 5 cm to an enemy unit. Once the phasing player moves all units, the second player then moves all units.

Movement through rough terrain, severe terrain, and over fence rails / walls are covered. A unit may become "unformed" through this kind of movement if a formation test is failed. Certain formations like skirmish or march columns do not have to take a formation test if moving in rough terrain for example. Retrograde movement and about-faces are also included.

Units that become "unformed" are considered disorganized and require a full movement turn to reform. Units may also become "unformed" through charge results, morale tests, or being involuntarily interpenetrated.

The Fire Phase

Again, the phasing player conducts fire first (with all casualties being suffered before the opposing unit fires) and the second player then conducts fire. Typically, 2d6 are rolled for each firing unit with modifiers added. Certain circumstances add "casualty dice" as well. Truly effective fire may also prompt a morale test ("See the Elephant Test"). Infantry volley fire is rolled on one of three tables: Standard volley at effective range, all long range fire, and "deadbeat" volley at effective range. Units that are small, in double line, attack column, inferior muskets, or have previously lost fire discipline are considered to fire a "deadbeat" volley.

Skirmish fire and snipers are conducted in a different manner, with a variable number of "casualty dice" thrown instead of rolling on the volley table.

All period weapons and ranges are listed, including artillery pieces. Bouncethrough and cannister fire is also discussed. As it should be, my experience with artillery in the game is that battery fire can be  deadly, especially the destructive power of canister.

At the end of the fire phase, the game turn is considered ended.

My thoughts on Pickett's Charge

I think these rules are superb. The game turn ensures a nice flow to the proceedings and the mechanics are simple and built on common sense and period tactics. After playing the rules several times, I noticed an absence of "clunky" mechanisms that plague many games. Here are some specific examples of what I like:
     - The command phase is a "turn within a turn" and is critical to a successful game. Thoroughly comprehensive but easily executed, the command phase adds a significant "pucker factor" to each and every game. Differences in command capability are represented by the number of ADC's available.......I really like this. Therefore, a totally incompetent commander will automatically have one less ADC to use, while excellent commanders will have an extra ADC to work with. The command phase is a brilliant hallmark of the system but does not bog the game down in any way.
     - The weaponry and casualty tables seem right on the money with respect to historical accuracy.
     - Unit morale checks happen at the time of the event. In other words, there is no separate morale phase at the end. If a unit gets slaughtered by a cannon barrage, the effects of morale are tested at that moment. Brigade morale checks are simulated by the Falter table during the command phase.
     - Charges seem historically accurate. Melees are actually uncommon and charge reactions are rolled for as a result of the charge. Typically, one side or the other would give way before crossing bayonets. This is accurately represented in the charge mechanics.
     - All modifiers throughout the game seem very accurate. There are no "head scratchers" anywhere to be found.
     - Units are made up of bases when determining small, standard, and large units. When firing, figures do not have to be counted up anymore. This has streamlined the game immeasurably.
     - Because it doesn't matter how many figures are on a base, the gamer has full flexibility to build an army the way he / she wants.
     - The research is impeccable. There are rules for "tuckered out" brigades, units going to ground, optional rules for brigadier command span within woods, and more.
     - The rules are simply put....FUN.

Things that I found frustrating about the rules:

- Nothing really, but there are a couple of areas that I might add a house rule or two. Specifically, the winner of the initiative in the rules always moves and fires first. There may be a situation in which it is desirable to move second, even though a player will lose the benefit of firing first. I might add a rule that the winner of the initiative may decide who the first phasing player is. Another area is the subject of leader attachment. The rules do not spell out any possible leader casualties in a melee or charge reaction. Also, for regular or elite units, the attachment of a leader really doesn't give much of a modifier in charges.

Overall, I think these rules are fantastic. They have everything that I desire from ACW simulation: command and control, historical results, accurate weapon ranges and effect, and they are simply fun as hell to play. I tested the rules out pretty rigorously and I was impressed with the overall experience and the results each time. Kudos to David Brown ! Pickett's Charge is highly recommended.

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