Faced with the proverbial rainy day ( or at least a 'long morning' ), I took the opportunity to try out a recent purchase:Germantown, a board game from Decision Games 'Mini Game Series'.
I had recently picked this up when I happened to be in the vicinity of the veteran games shop Leisure Games in Finchley - which I used to visit regularly in the 1990s, but I had not set foot in for 20 years or more. It was nice to see them still trading, with a massive selection of games, of course! I couldn't leave without buying something, and this was one of the cheapest games they had(!) - but also an interesting follow-up to my recent on-line gaming experience courtesy of blogger Nundanket and his 'Loose Files and American Scramble' AWI games.
To quote from the game: A British campaign in the late summer of 1777 had defeated George Washington's American army to capture Philadelphia. The British dispersed their strength to hold the city, reduce Colonial forts along the Delaware River, and watch the Americans, who hovered nearby. Washington saw an opportunity to attack the weakened British at Germantown. The complicated American plan fell apart in dense fog, but a few breaks going their way would have endangered the British position in eastern Pennsylvania. The game uses a simplified 'fast play' version of Decision Games Musket and Saber series rules, and uses a small set of only 40 counters and a mini-map ( 11 by 17 inches ) - so very easy to set up and start playing. The main rules cover just 4 pages, with a couple more pages for the scenario-specific rules.
Here it is, with the opposing forces in the second turn ( 06:30 hrs ). The British and Hessians ( red and green counters ) begin deployed around Germantown, and the Americans arrive in several columns from four separate roads to the West, North and East - they win a major victory if they can occupy the Market Square of Germantown, or at least one hex of the British camp ( on the hill, just to the South of the town ). The British win a major victory if they can destroy all the American units - no small task. Each hex width represents about 350m on the ground, and units represent Brigades and Battalions - the Americans also have one battery of artillery, and the British have one unit of cavalry ( part of a small reinforcing column arriving later ). Some of the units ( American militia and Hessian Jaegers ) can act as light infantry, and make skirmishing attacks rather than getting in close with musket and bayonet.
The rules are quite simple, with alternate moves and simple D6 die rolls for combat, morale etc. I liked the combat resolution table and its use of the combat strength difference between
the opposing units, rather than the old-school 'SPI' style use of
ratios ( 2 to 1, 3 to 1 etc ), which I never liked. Combat results can be retreats, routs and step losses - most units can take two step losses, being 'flipped' to the reverse of the counter with lower strength for the first one, then destroyed if another loss is taken - and/or 'disruption' which reduces their combat ability. Both step losses and disruption can be recovered. Units can 'stack' up to 3 per hex
without adverse effect, but only one unit per hex counts for combat, so
the stacks very soon shake out into battle lines of single units for
best effect - this seems right given the 350m per hex and brigade-size
units. Another crucial rule is that when one side's units enter the
enemy units' Zones of Control, all the enemy hexes contacted must be
attacked - if you decide not to attack the enemy in a hex you have
contacted, then the units in that hex can counter-attack you, with their
combat factors doubled. You may decide to concentrate your
attack on only some of the contacted enemy, but you have to be confident
that you can weather the resultant counter-attacks! ( it can make
sense, if you need to concentrate on the strongest enemy units, maybe
ignore the weakest as their counter-attack will not be too strong, and
they may decline to attack)
A major feature of this scenario is the effect of fog - each turn a dice is rolled to decide if the morning fog persists ( with more chance of it clearing as the day goes on, but then a return at the end of the day) and the presence of fog has some fairly drastic effects. Movement allowances are randomised and reduced, even road movement is slower, and woods and watercourses have serious effects on movement and combat - there are many small 'brooks' and 'light woods' hexes, and in fog turns these are uprated to 'stream' and 'dense woods' which limit movement and cause combat strengths to be halved. I get the idea - imagine trying to get a unit of drilled infantry in strict line formation to advance and attack across a series of brooks and through woodland in dense fog! To some extent the the fog blanketed the rules too at the start, as one had to keep remembering that this or that terrain hex now behaved like a different terrain hex, but the rules are really pretty simple, and soon picked up. Units on hills get a combat factor bonus in fog, which makes some sense!
Another important scenario feature is the simulation of ammunition shortages for the Americans - after the first few turns the British player gets to choose a number of American units each turn which must take a morale check, and if they fail they will become 'disrupted' , which makes them less capable, especially in the attack. This is quite a bonus for the British, as the number of units to be checked goes up to five in later turns - the disrupted units either have to stop for a turn to recover, or remain much less useful in any combat.
And so, to the battle. As you might expect, the fog certainly slowed down the initial American advances, and gave the British time to organise - they elected to use their Hessians ( including a Jaeger rifles unit ) to defend their left against US militia, and to divide their main British infantry force into two, each division trying to block the progress of one of the columns of American regulars. The game starts at '05:00 hours', and the fog did not lift until 11:00 ( Turn 5 ), and as a result the main American forces were pretty slow in their advance. By 8:30 ( Turn 3) the Hessians had begun a long series of combats ( lots of skirmishing in and out of the woods ) with the American militia in the west, in which they held their own and secured the British left flank. The American main forces bumbled their way down the roads, bumping into two outlying British battalions north of Germantown, and forcing them to retreat - one of them shut themselve up in the Chew House, which becomes a bastion. There are a whole list of special rules for this house/bastion - but the effect was simply that the battalion occupying it was bypassed and left alone, and took no further part in the proceedings.
|11:00 hrs - US militia ( pale blue, lower right ) threaten the camp|
As soon as the fog lifted, everything kicked off , the main American forces in the North making a general advance and attack which went quite well, forcing the British brigades to retreat - and on the Britsh turn, their counter-attacks were easily repulsed, owing to a whole series of low die rolls giving 'Attacker retreat' results. Meanwhile the US militia on the Eastern flank threatened to sack the British camp - arriving only one hex away from a rather sneaky victory. Fortunately for the British, their reinforcement of three Grenadier battalions arrived from the South and attacked the militia, while 4th British brigade (wisely left at the camp as a 'backstop' reserve) hurried to join them. The fight went badly for them, though - 4th Brigade suffering an 'exchange' step loss against one militia brigade who had occupied some woods, and the grenadiers being forced to retreat - the dice were distinctly American that turn!
So when Turn 6 ( 12:30 ) began, American militia were still one hex from the British camp and a possible victory - only to be foiled by the 'ammunition shortage' special rule. The British were only too happy to impose an 'ammo check' on the nearest militia unit, which promptly became disrupted and could not advance. This may well have saved the day!
Over the next few turns, it was to-and-fro stuff, especially in the centre around Germantown, with both sides trying to keep a battle line and launch strong attacks on their opponents, and neither gaining a real advantage - I seemed to develop a habit of rolling a '1' whenever an attacking force had a good advantage, often resulting in 'Attacker Retreat' results. Neither side's troops seemed very determined in the attack! But overall, the Americans made progress and pushed the British back. By half-way through the 14:00 turn ( Turn 7 of 9 ), the British commander Howe and his Guards brigade had been forced to abandon the crucial Market Square. The game was only saved then because all the American units attacking Howe had been 'disrupted' by the fiendish ammunition shortages, and disrupted units cannot advance after combat...
|14:00 Market Square cleared - but Americans can't advance!|
In the British phase, Howe was able to re-occupy the Market Square, and by 15:30 had his main force formed into a strong defensive line protecting the town from the North - though the sneaky American Militia still lurked in the East, again threatening to overrun the British Camp, as the British and Hessian Grenadiers had been drawn into the central fight ( 'all hands to the pumps!').
|15:30: Brtish line stabilised, but watch those militia.. |
The Grenadiers and depleted 4th Brigade were hurriedly sent back to save the camp, intercepting those militia units, who would not be able to bypass the defenders' Zones of Control. And then, at 17:00, the final turn, one last American push, perhaps - and the fog returned! In the centre, Washington's forces ( despite 4 units disrupted by ammunition shortage, launched two big attacks as the fog came down - but in both cases rolled the seemingly inevitable '1', only forcing their opponents back a little, without losses. The last American push had stalled. The British line had held, and on their last turn, Howe decided to do nothing - the return of fog meant that any combat into or out of brook/stream or woods hexes would be difficult, and might well result in bloody repulses. It was enough to have hung on to Germantown.
|17:00 final situation: fog returns and Brits have held out|
And so it ended. The Hessians on the British left had done well, with a strong infantry brigade and a jaeger unit combining conventional attacks and skirmishing to push back double their numbers of American regulars and militia. On the right, the British and Hessian Grenadiers had saved the camp from lurking militia, and in the centre the Thin Red Line had held. So, no Major American victory - and vey obviously no British Major win ( this requires 'No Colonial untis remain on the map' - could that really ever happen ? ). The rules say that a minor victory then goes to whichever side has gained the most Victory Points (VPs) - and VPs are gained at the rate of 2 VPs per eliminated unit ( step losses to units still on the table do not count towards VPs ). And the funny thing was, what with all those '1's rolled in the big attacks, and all those 'Attacker Retreat' and 'Defender Retreat' outcomes, in all those to-and-fro combats, precisely zero units had been completely eliminated on either side! So, the final score was British 0 VP, Americans 0 VP. A 'no-score draw'!
I suppose I could have felt like a lower-league football fan on a drizzly winter Saturday afternoon after their local lads ground out a 0-0 'result' - but it had been more fun that that ( and warmer and dryer!). It had been quite a tense game, both sides had advantages and disadvantages : the British had slightly more powerful units with better morale, but less of them, while the Americans had the numbers, with their regulars almost as good as the British in combat power, and their militia able to use the wooded terrain for skirnishing to good effect, but a big problem with ammuntion shortages weakening their attacks and the persistent fog delaying them significantly. I felt that if the dice had decreed the fog lifted at 08:00 instead of 11:00, things could have been very different - and it could have gone either way! Both sides seemed equally incapable fo 'rolling high' at the moment of crucial attacks, and this led to a lot of 'retreat' combat outcomes with few actual losses, hence the inability of either side to actually eliminate enemy units! Perhaps that somehow ties in with the fogginess of the day - were both sides troops a bit disheartened by all that stumbling around in the fog, and not inclined to press their attacks with vigour? Sometimes the dice gods tell a story..
Overall, I liked the game, and will give it another go : I liked very manageable size ( larger board games seem to me sometines rather long-winded to set up and play, alas! ), the fairly simple rules and mechanisms, though there were a few questions arising, perhaps inevitable with simple rules and with lots of scenario-specific rules sometines 'countermanding' the basic rule set (the British 'Queens Rangers' cavalry unit was a challenge - moving fast, it was able to range far behind enemy lines, but I could never quite see how it would be able to actually use its 'charge' ability - it ended up just 'lurking' ineffectually, as you may see in the pictures ). It's an interesting scenario, and I know other bloggers have used it - for example Norm at Battlefields and Warriors, who ran a splendid PBEM mini-campaign game, which I now need to go and read myself, to see how I probably should have played it(!). I think the game would also suit another one of Norm's excellent concepts, that of taking part of the action from a board game battle and playing it out as a small-to-medium game with figures on the tabletop. I don't currently have 'AWI' armies available, but perhaps it might translate to somewhere in central Europe, c. 1760 - Prussians replacing the British holding the town, Austrians (with plenty of Grenzers ) looming through the fog?
Right, I'm off to read Norm's account of his version of Germantown.. Back to the actual toy soldiers next time, I hope - maybe even a bit of painting? Its about time! Meanwhile keep well, everyone.