Thursday, February 25, 2021

ACW rules review extravaganza!


Whew, I'm just barely managing my breakneck speed of posting twice a month.

More ACWrary!

In this post, we Continue our celebration of ACWrary by going over various ACW rule sets.   I'm gonna go through a bunch of ACW rules and give opinions on them.  Nothing is as inflammatory as an opinion.  But should make for good reading yes?  Otherwise it's a big waste of time.    

Games covered:

Alter of Freedom

Pickett's Charge

Sharp Practice 2


Rank and File

Regimental Fire and Fury and Brigade Fire and Fury 2ed.  

ACW is the Best CW

That's why it comes first in alphabetical order.  As most of you know, I am a BIG fan of wargaming the ACW.  I love the history, I love the look, I love the movies, and I love the books.  It's one of my biggest miniature collections.  So naturally alongside the miniatures I've picked up and tried out a couple of rule sets.  

I obviously can't cover all the ACW rulesets ever written.  I've confined myself to rulesets that I own, have read, and played at least once.   I've also limited myself to rules that you could go out and buy right now if you like what you hear.  Also I didn't go too in-depth into the mechanics of each game because that would be a lot of writing and I'm lazy.  Plus you can find such information on other places in the magnificent internet.  You could probably even safely search the internet in front of your spouse for ACW miniature gaming rules because the odds are it won't lead to nudity.  

Throughout the post I'll put pics of my ACW forces in action that have appeared previously on the blog.  I would of liked to of staged new pics but one only has so much time these days.

So here we go.

Alter of Freedom

The best parts of AoF is the Bidding system to activate brigades in what order and the Turn Clock.  These are some fun mechanisms that help simulate being in charge of an entire battle.  I also really like the way that the Personality of the Army and Division leader can be reflected by dictating how they spend their available points to activate units.  For instance requiring a leader to hold back some points for some end of the turn movement because they are fussy about small details.  Or not allowing a division leader to assign equal points to his brigades (thereby preventing coordinating actions of those brigades) because the leader has trouble making up his mind.  This process is closely related to the Turn Clock because you don't really know how many activations you are gonna get in a turn.  

Overall the process of bidding points to activate your brigades either early in the turn or later, before the enemy or after, does indeed allow for the feeling of the commander influencing the battle.  Which I think is a real thing in the ACW.  Think of Antietam where Lee ran hither and thither spurring his troops to shore up breaking points all over his line whereas McClellan basically stayed in one place and watched it all through binoculars.  And just to do the opposite at Gettysburg, especially on the second day, Lee basically stood in one place and Meade ran all over plugging holes with troops.  It's probably easier to do that sort of thing when on the defensive.  In Chancellorsville Hooker was temporarily taken out by a concussion from a shell and the whole Union army suffered from a high command paralysis at a really bad time.   


I find the mechanics of how units actually fight each other to be pretty boring.  They are well written and easy to understand, there's just not much to them.  I understand why; because the rules are aimed at doing large battles in a decent amount of time and one turn is supposed to be one hour so it streamlines a lot of the minutia of combat.  To me this makes it more of a strategy game than a tactical one, and I just miss the tactics.  All the brigades are the same size so one looks like another and a strong or weak brigade is only differentiated by how many strength points it has, which is on a label.  There are no formations.  There's practically no shooting in the game because it's scope is so zoomed out and small arms skirmish fire is pretty ineffectual.  Brigades really just charge each other over and over.  Sometimes when I played it I felt like I was commanding more of a Dark Ages / Ancients Army than an ACW one because of the lack of shooting.  I know that the charge into contact is supposed to simulate the close range fire fight and all that stuff but to me it just feels like you charged their unit with yours and either they will recoil or you will.   There's no meat grinder feel.  It's more of a ping pong.  I want that grind of brigades slugging it out.  I liked playing AoF  but I spent a lot of time afterward thinking of how I could take that bidding system and bolt it onto a rule set that has more meat in it's combat.

Sum Up:  AoF is a well written game that does what it sets out to do; provide a higher level of command experience and big battles.  It's more of a strategy game so your engrossed in how to get your brigades into action but the actual combat is lackluster.   Rating: Three stars 

Pickett's Charge

I liked PC the first time I played it.  Then I played it about 3 more times and I really didn't like it as much.  I got the impression that PC was a 'really good Napoleonic ruleset that was 3/4s complete.'  This was reinforced when General d'Armee came out, which is basically the same core system more flushed out and includes infantry squares for Naps.  But it falls short for ACW.  The main thing that it does well is support my belief that the ACW was 'fought by regiments but moved by brigades.'  I forget who said that (or something very similar) which I just plagiarized but I've been convinced.  When you read ACW history you hear all the time what a certain regiment did.  Even when you're discussing a famous brigade (the Iron Brigade, the Stonewall Brigade) you still tend to focus on regiments.  But regiments really didn't wander the battlefield by themselves but maneuvered as a Brigade.   So any game that rewards regiments sticking together but ultimately acting as hit points for brigades is doing well in my eyes.  In PC the status of the Brigade will affect what the regiments can do; and when regiments get used up it affects the status of the Brigade.  You're never gonna refight an entire battle using regiments (that would be maddness!!) so your basically looking at a division or corps command.  This is a good option for each player to control a corps or a division without too much brain power / being overcome by details. Combat is gritty enough to provide that grind I was talking about but also quick enough not to bog down.  

PC also has fun ADC system where Divisional and Core leaders can assign ADC tokens (or cool painted figures) to the brigades to trigger certain affects.  You roll for how many you get each turn so this number fluctuates throughout the battle and provides some fun tension.  The game also uses some ACW terminology like calling units "whipped" which adds a delicious dollop of historical flavor.  


The rules are kinda a mess.  It's one of those rules that when you read them everything seems covered but then each game you play you find something new that is not explained well or just not mentioned.  When you look up the FAQs and errata of PC, there is a lot of it.  Some of these make changes to basic rules like how skirmishers fire and to the 'dead volley' result chart and these are like, pretty core mechanics.  The charge/melee rules in particular are all over the place.  Melee phases are usually the most complicated of rulesets and I think PC could of used another 3 pages of explanation and examples.  It's just not clear enough.  I also don't love that charging units and the units being charged basically play out the whole turn sequence by themselves to completion.  When the charge combat is complete you then go back to almost the beginning of the turn sequence for the other units not involved.  It's just wonky to do it that way.

The ADC system is clever at first and there's like 10 options to choose from; but my experience showed me that you only choose the same 3 over and over and over again (these being Brigade attachment, Double Quick, and Assault fire.  Sometimes Rally).   The others just never apply or apply so very rarely that you forget about them.  

Overall: There are a lot of good ideas in PC but the rules as a whole are not fully formed.  It's just not written that well and many things are confusing.  If you REALLY like it's good points then you can overlook the bad but I think the bad wins out in the end.  It's kinda like a beautiful woman with a shitty personality; does not a long term relationship make.  If a second edition comes out I would probably buy it, and I'm sometimes tempted to buy General d'Armee and use those rules and just ignore the Nappy stuff.  In the meantime PC just sits on the shelf and I hardly ever have a desire to play it.  Overall Score: Two stars.

Sharp Practice 2

People tend to love or hate TFL games; and I am the same.  I really like Chain of Command, but am not a fan of I Ain't Been Shot Mum.  I like What a Tanker but hated Dux Britainarrium.  Which is all strange because because it's mostly the same concepts in each game just slightly different.  It's the same thing as liking Double Fudge Chocolate ice cream but intensely disliking Rocky Road.  Except that nobody really likes Rocky Road.

SP2 is a generic Horse and Musket ruleset that plugs into the ACW by using special traits for the units; so you'll think that SP2 is a good ACW game as long as the traits reflect what you think is appropriate for the ACW.  It does a good job of this, plus I think that SP2 is just a GOOD game overall.  It has solid mechanics and an interesting game play.  TFL are big on 'friction' in their wargames and SP2 is probably one of the better versions of how it creates that friction.  It's also one of the few games where troops deploying onto the battlefield is part of every scenario so when you play a battle it really has a beginning, middle, and end feel to it.  Mostly though, it's gonna come down to that IF you like the mechanics of SP2 then you'll likely enjoy it for the ACW.  For example; if you like card based activations, and random turn lengths; if you like the way that shock works or rolling to see how far a unit will move and etc..  The game plays really well with 2 people but can bog down with more.  

The unique feature of SP2 from the stable of TFL games is the use of Command Cards.  It's using these that the player really enhances his activations and provides a great risk versus reward mechanic because the more that you have the more that you can use at once for a bigger effect--but the turn might end and you lose your chance for that big effect.  The command cards have a LOT of uses actually and adds a lot to the game.  

You're not going to be recreating any famous battles of the ACW with SP2 though.  I'm not even sure what the basic forces in SP2 are supposed to represent; could be a company, a regiment, or some guys off on a detached assignment.  What you get is a good game with enough ACW window dressing. 

However; here are some quibbles...

The biggest problem in SP2 is there are a LOT of rules in the game.  No rule is very complex on it's own, there's just a lot of them and most of them interact and taken all together makes SP2 more complex than it appears.  There's definitely a learning curve for this game.  I think this is demonstrated thoroughly in that you can watch a YouTube video of SP2 being played by the rules author and his business partner and they mess it up several times. 

 The melee rules are the most complex because it's a whole several step subsystem of it's own.  It doesn't matter how many times you've played SP2,  you're always gonna open up the rule book and go through the steps. 

 It's not a daunting amount of rules to learn like some board games have.  But you can't say "everything you need to know to play the game is on this short QRS."  A QRS for SP2 is 5 pages long. 

And while I really like the Command Cards in the game, they have SO many uses that until you learn  them all you have to keep a list of what could be done and consult it almost each time you get dealt one.  

The game can also drag if you have too many leaders in a force.  Here is a house rule that I use:  Status 1 Leaders who are attached to a formation with a higher Status Leader whom is actually leading the formation DON'T get a card.  99% of the time when these Status 1 Leaders activate they remove a point of shock or do nothing.  I just have all status 1 leaders do that at the beginning of a turn.  

The only thing in the game that I don't like are the random events that sometimes trigger.  I just think they're all lame.  The simple fix is to just not use them.  

Overall: SP2 is a good game of horse and musket skirmish that fits the ACW well.  Score: 4 stars.  


First off, Longstreet is not so much a miniature wargame that uses cards but is a card game that uses miniatures (see what I did there?).  That's an important point to make because it will really affect one's enjoyment of the game if one doesn't grasp that early.  It's the cards in your deck that matter, and not so much the battlefield.  Longstreet is a very interesting game; Dai and I played several games during the way back when (it was before I even had a blog, clearly the dark ages).  We were playing the campaign and I know I got to a point where I was REALLY interested in what happened during the campaign but less interested in playing the actual battles.  I keep the rules around for the campaign system mostly, because one day I AM I SWEAR gonna play a ACW campaign.  During the campaign you get to augment your force, get reinforcements, camp sickness will affect units (an often overlooked part of the ACW), get skills, and etc..  It's kinda cool that your large, fresh, Eager and Green Regiment who can't shoot worth a damn but will charge anything you point it at will, after a few battles and losses, become a small battle hardened veteran unit that shoots really well but is very reluctant to charge anything.  The campaign system also stacks the deck depending on where you are during the war which is a nice feature; Games in the early war the CSA has a distinct advantage and those late-war games favor the Union.  The midwar decks are fairly balanced. 

Anther thing that I liked but others might not; it's kinda a grab bag of all things cool about the ACW just mixed together.  There's repeating rifles, there's the Rebel Yell, there's African American Soldiers eager to prove themselves, there's faulty CSA shells, etc..  Basically anything cool in an ACW movie has a card in the game.  


Dai and I never finished the campaign, think we got 4 games done out of the 12 needed.  I think this is mostly because our lives got busy (as they do), we moved on to other games, and we soured on the actual game play of the battles.  For me, I'm more of a miniature gamer than card player.  I don't want to say that the game play was bad, because it's not, it's just not what I'm looking for.  Yet here are some things that ALWAYS rubbed me the wrong way:

During a turn units can charge OR move but not both. No, not like that, like this: If you had 3 units that you wanted to move and 2 units you wanted to charge the enemy then you could move the 3 units and NOT charge at all or have the 2 units charge and the other 3 just sit there.  So it's impossible to be aggressive on one flank while falling back on another.  And that is just plain wonky and does not reflect ACW at all.   

During a battle there are a lot of 'gotcha' moments due to the card play.  Like there are cards that you can play that prevent the other player from charging or that really reduce all shooting attacks.  So you often have moments where you set up a glorious charge across the whole battle line (because you can charge OR move) only to have the other player stop it with a card play and a sly "oh no you don't."  Basically, some of the card effects are just annoying.  Like the 'magic marsh' card (I forget what it's actually called) where you get to add a piece of rough terrain anywhere on the table; so inevitably you place RIGHT in front of advancing enemy troops.  I know that it's supposed to represent the frequent occurrence of troops plowing into a bog (or whatever) that no one knew was there; "Over this small foot hill Boys and straight onto the  enemy's flank OH DEAR ME WHERE DID THIS SWAMP COME FROM??!!  That's not on the map!"  --but when it happens every game it's less amusing.  

Your starting force in Longstreet is a mix of infantry, artillery, and cavalry....WHY the HELL is cav in there?  The ACW reeaaaallly quickly moved off from mixed brigades of infantry and cavalry and as I explained in my previous post, cavalry is dumb.  Ok, it's not dumb but cavalry is really a side line to ACW battles.  

Overall: Longstreet is a very interesting game, I've never played any other game like it (it might be like the other games in the Honour series).  It unique, and that's either a blessing or a curse depending on if you like the card play aspect.  It's more of a deck management game that uses miniatures than a traditional miniature wargame.  While the campaign system is written for it's own rules, it full of good ideas and probably be adapted for use with other rule sets.  But since I'll likely never break out Longstreet just to play a battle, I'll give it 2 stars.  

Rank and File

I'll tell you a secret; I've never played Black Powder (GASP!  SHOCK!).  I've never played BP because I already own a good generic large battle horse and musket rules, and these are Rank and File.  RF is superb in it's simplicity; units can be regiments or brigades or anything you want, the turn sequence is easy, the mechanics are smooth, it's basing is flexible.   You could also pick up the ACW supplement for a few more rules that make it more ACW-y but that's not required really.  But I will say that the supplement is really well written and enjoyable, a good resource in it's own right.  It's one of those supplements that's great for a novice because it gives plenty of background and has just enough rules in it to add more  ACW flavor but really does not change the core mechanics.  
IMPORTANT NOTE:  I have always played R&F using a D8 for morale instead of a D6.  This makes passing morale / rally checks a little easier and allows units to linger longer in combat which results in more delicious carnage.  And because units that take 50% losses cannot rally, this does not increase the game time. 

Combat in R&F is easy and smooth and has enough grind to it to satisfy me.  Units will blast away at each and whittle themselves down.  There's juuust enough of the meat grinder feeling that I like.   Earlier when I talked about Alter of Freedom and stealing the bidding system, it would be Rank and File that I would use.  

I keep saying that R&F is easy to learn (because it is) but that's not to say there is no tactics or strategy.  The game straddles the balance between being simple but still needing a good plan of attack to make it work. 

One of the benefits of R&F is that since it plays pretty quickly you can get a lot of turns into an evening.  Which means it's great for games that start with an empty table and the troops enter from roads.  You won't spend have the evening just getting into position.  


I don't really have anything that I dislike about R&F.  The worse thing about it which really is not bad at all, is that it takes a little more work to prepare a scenario because you have to create the OOB and decide and on the scale.   Units, no matter what they are representing, need to be between 4 and 10 stands each.  I have found that 6 or 7 is the sweet spot. 

There is NO command and control in R&F.  If a unit is not routing it WILL go where you want it to.  Leaders don't really lead but just provide morale benefits.  

Overall: Rank and File does exactly what it says it does: provides easy rules for large battles but still has plenty of tactics to go around.  The ACWness of it comes more from the equipment traits and the special rules for the period, but the generic core mechanics are great.  4 stars.  

Regimental Fire and Fury and Brigade Fire and Fury 2nd Edition

I'm gonna lump these two together because they are basically the same game.  The mechanics in each are 90% the same, it's by the same author and's the the scale that is different.  One is for Regiments and one is for Brigades (got figure).  RFF has been my go-to set of ACW rules ever since I got them.  I think they are simply the best.  The books are the best written rule books I have ever come across.  They are clear, there is just enough examples and charts, the melee phase is thoroughly explained, the mechanics smooth.  I really appreciate the turn sequence (Side A maneuvers, side B fires, Side A fires, Melee for both; followed by Side B maneuvers, Side A fires, Side B fires, Melee for both and that's 1 complete turn)  and it's a stroke of genius that the morale of the unit is combined with the maneuver check.  I like the way that units degrade over time going from Fresh to Worn to Spent as losses mount and I like the way that this degrade can be speed up or slowed down depending if the unit is Spirited, Reliable, or Unreliable.  It does such a good job of reflecting how some units in the ACW would stand there and take all sorts of punishment while others would start to fall back after being shouted at by the enemy.  It also displays the linear tactics that ACW commanders preferred.  These are the rules that set the bar for a game that feels like an ACW battle.  

I would say that the rules are of moderate complexity as each phase has it's own little subsystem.  I have ran these rules at conventions with no problems and people tend to pick it up fairly quickly.  

I really can't sat enough positives about them.  If you like the ACW and you don't have these rules you are missing out.


In order to sound fair and balanced, here are some MINOR draw backs.
You got to do a lot of math in RFF.  The math is not hard, it's simple addition and subtraction, you just have to do it a lot.  For instance shooting;  people who are completely used to games where each base rolls a D6 with a few modifiers looking for a 4+ can be dismayed that RFF doesn't work that way.  Instead in RFF you add up all the fire points from ALL the units shooting at a target, which converts into a modifier (for example 11 fire points gives a +2 modifier),  add or substract the other modifiers (there's only a handful), roll a D10, and consult the fire chart.  Basically in each subsystem you're rolling a D10 and doing some addition and subtraction to get a result to look on a chart.  It can kinda feel like you're doing a first grader's math homework.  
I want to stress that I think the added complexity is actually a good thing and really helps with the overall feel of the game being ACW.  And again, the math is not hard.  It's not long division.  
It's just more mentally tiring than just counting up successes on a pool of dice.

Each unit in RFF and BFF requires a label, so hosting a game takes work because you have to print out and attach them, as you can see in all the pics in this post.  

RFF and BFF are best a multiplayer games.  In RFF a single player can play a brigade easily and an experienced player could do a division.  In BFF a single player can do a division easily and the more  experienced could do a Corps.  

Overall:  These are my favorite ACW rules and in my mind set the standard for all the other ACW rules.  5 stars. 

Wrapping Up:

Naturally, these are just my opinions and therefore don't really mean anything;  They're worth exactly what you paid to get them.  And even then, if someone was hosting a game and invited me to play and was using any of these rules I would still come along happily.  Even the ones I rated low.  

For myself; if a game was for 3 or more players I would immediately reach for RFF /  BFF or R&F.  If for 2 players I would likely bring SP2 (or just a smaller RFF scenario with 2 brigades a side maximum).  

I hope you enjoyed this rule blitz.  

 If you have a favorite ACW rule set please feel free to let me know.  I'm always on the lookout for ACW rules and even if I never play them I like to read them. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

For ACWrary; some ACW reinforcements


Hello All.  I'm excited to start celebrating ACWary and getting back to my semi regular schedule of posting again.  That's a Win-Win I'd say.  You did know that February is ACWary month right?  Of course you did.  

In this post I present to you some ACW reinforcements.

This was mainly a basing project, as these were miniatures that I paid to be painted a long time ago (as can be seen in This post a year Ago!).  So after a year of living on popsicle sticks in the dark of my hobby desk, I figure these guys are now properly aged and seasoned and ready to join the regular armies.  The fact that it took me a year to get these guys on bases makes no nevermind.  It's all about the long term planning see? yeah, that sounds good.  Much better than admitting that I just got distracted by other stuff.

Isn't cool that we all can instantly recognize General Amristead in this picture
just because of the hat on the sword? 
I should watch Gettysburg again the next time I have 4 hours to waste.
Probably in 5 years time...

Isn't the Basing Great?

First up we have here some Confederates.  30 bases worth (90 miniatures in 18mm), so a sizable addition to the CSA.  I didn't paint any of these, so just tell me how cool the basing is...

But really it's just a simple basing scheme and nothing to GENERAL LEE BRAGG about.  Get it?? General LEE??   Bragg??!!  **chuckle chuckle snort snort***    Ahhh, I enjoy word play.  

A Sample of 10.  The rest look very similar.

Seem, Told ya.

Here is Everybody

I always like pics from the behind the miniatures,
because when you are the controlling player,
this is the view that you see.

Wasn't that a fun bunch of Rebels? 

But Maybe I Can Say That I Painted These Guys?

Not to be outdone, here we have some USA reinforcements; also 30 bases worth (90 miniatures).

 However when I started in on the Union troops I realized that the guy who painted these for me neglected to paint the canteen straps white and forgot to paint the brass plate on the ammo pouch.  So I did 'em and hard work it was.  That's a lie of course because it was pretty easy; but it does mean that I *technically* painted them myself right?  That's the truth of it.

Sample of 10

Look-it the white straps!

In truth though it doesn't really matter to me if I have painted the miniatures or not; what matters is that they are now DONE!  Whenever I put on an ACW convention game someone always asked me if I had painted all the miniatures and I always answer grandly, "I painted AAALL of these miniatures except for the ones that I paid someone else to; but you can assume that mine are the better paint job."  Which is actually true except for the CSA that Dai painted and the Zouaves that I was gift from Jonathon.  Those are way better.  

All Together now!
"My eyes have seen the Glory of the..."

I haven't had time to do an actual count, but these additions probably put me dangerously close to completing my goal of having 200 bases of infantry per side.  If you count command stands and artillery then I've already broken 200 but that was not the goal.  When each side has 225 infantry bases and 25 artillery bases I will consider the collection complete.  

What about Cavalry?  Who cares about the Cavalry??!!  Cavalry is basically useless in ACW battles (which is just another reason why ACW beats NAPs;  you can ignore one whole aspect of the army).  Name one battle where Cavalry played a s significant role outside of Buford's Cav at Gettysburg?   

Ya Can't! 

NO!  Those minor Cav on Cav battles don't count for nothing.  

NO!  You can't count Mounted Infantry neither; Mounted Infantry and Cavalry aren't the same thing.

So Cavalry can go suck on a pinecone.  Who wants to paint two versions of the same unit anyway (one mounted and one dismounted).  Not this guy!  If you want to play Cavalry you should head over to Napoleonic games where cavalry have real confusing names like 'cuirassiers,' and 'hussars,' and 'chasseurs.'  Whatever those are supposed to be.  

To make up for my meanness; here is a meme of Jeb Stuart.  One of the best cavalry commanders in the ACW (but maybe not THE best) and likely the most famous.

Now we're friends again.

Public Service Announcement

Men!  Valentines day is fast approaching!  DO NOT FORGET!  

Since Valentines day is in the month of ACWary; why not get her some deliciously ACW themed sentiments.  She'll love it!***

For those righteous women who were for the Union

For those with a more southern sympathy

***Do not do this. She will NOT love it.  

Wrapping up

I hope you'll will be having a happy ACWrary,  I'm really hoping to squeeze in another ACW post before the month is out.  Till then, thanks for reading along.  You are appreciated.