Most of Decision Games' Blue & Gray series games are reprints of SPI classics, but there are two original scenarios in the box, dealing with the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.
Of the two, Second Bull Run is the meatier games. The First Bull Run scenario, while entertaining, is rather small and a bit dicey.
Second Bull Run is a full-fledged full-bodied scenario that's one of the most wide open of the series.
Statistics from Hexwar.com, the online wargame-playing service, which offers Second Bull Run as one of its games, show a bias against the Confederates, but not an overwhelming one. As of Jan. 25, 2008 the site reported 854 US wins and 626 CS wins. The Confederate side is more challenging to play, and I'll explain why later. But clearly the result is not foreordained and the game is a competitive contest for both sides.
The two sides are fairly even in strength. The Confederate army comprises 118 combat factors of infantry, 5 factors of cavalry, 1 factor of horse artillery and 21 factors of artillery for a total of 155. Their Union opponents comprise 152 factors of infantry, 6 factors of cavalry and 15 factors of artillery -- a total of 173.
But wait, 21 factors of those Federal troops are conditional reinforcements that enter on a die roll late in the game and may not appear at all. Even if they do appear, it's generally too late to change the outcome and more often than not they'll never see action. This cuts the ratio down to 155-152.
Both sides get a large pulse of reinforcements. Aside from a couple of units that appear earlier or later (6 factors worth) the Union Army sees 67 factors come in on turn 3, while the Rebel army has 76 factors the next turn. The end result is that both pulses arrive at the front at the same time.
What they find when they get there can vary tremendously and provides much of the game's charm. The first four turn set the stage for what follows and those first four turns require some adept maneuvering by both sides. The game's initial stages are not unlike a judo match, as both armies strive to "throw" the other off its game plan. If one succeeds, then it has probably ensured eventual victory.
The Federal army has a slight edge in strength at the start, with 77 factors while the Confederate army has 71 factors. The Confederates also start with a terrain advantage because they hold a double-strength line along the railroad cut.
The Federal army does start with one important advantage, though, the initiative. That army moves first and it's vital that they use that to control the pace of the battle. Typically the two armies struggle for control of the key ground at the western end of their initial lines. This small area, about 6 by 6 hexes, bounded on the east by Groveton, the West by the map edge, the north by the edge of south mountain and the south by another small hill.
The importance of controlling this patch of ground derives from the fate of the Turn 4 CSA reinforcements. If the Union can control this ground (and takes the ordinary precaution of covering the potential map edge entry hexes south of that) then the Confederate reinforcements are confined to coming in in the northwest corner of the battlefield and will most likely be bottled up. The Confederates do not have enough of an edge in numbers or quality that they can bull their way through a compact Union line.
On the other hand, if the Rebels control that ground then their Turn 4 reinforcements have the breathing room they need to sweep down on the flank of the Groveton-Sudley Ford line and potentially outmaneuver the arriving Federal troops as well.
Bottling the Confederates up is more damaging to their cause than breaking out is beneficial to them, which explains the Union edge in game results. Even if the Union army ends up losing the Groveton flank fight they have a chance to recover later. There's no recovering from being stuck in a corner.
It's an interesting game situation, Both sides are closely matched and each must attack and defend, all of which usually lead to an entertaining contest and Second Bull Run is one of the better games in the Blue & Gray series.