Saturday, March 22, 2008

Remember the Maine: A review

It was 110 years ago this spring that the United States battled its way onto the World Stage with the "Splendid Little War" against Spain in 1898.
It was a one-sided affair, especially at sea. U.S. battle deaths were in the hundreds, so ships were lost. One particularly colorful character played a big role in the affair from start to finish and literally rode that fame into the White House (Teddy Roosevelt). The U.S. ended up with overseas colonies for the first time and Cuba won its Independence. The war also closed the last door on Spanish pretensions of great power status.
Usually such lopsided outcomes are hard to make a satisfactory wargame out of, but things aren't quite as grim on that score as they might appear, as shown by Remember the Maine!, the issue game in Strategy & Tactics magazine No. 108, July 1986.
In truth, the Spanish didn't make the most of their opportunities in the historical event. More energetic or imaginative leadership could have made the U.S. task much harder.
For example, while the American Navy was better than the Spanish fleet,it wasn't very large. Between the need to protect the invasion fleet, guard the U.S. coast and maintain a blockade of Cuba there were opportunities to catch portions of the American force at a disadvantage. Likewise, the American ground forces did not have a big edge in quality and no edge at all in numbers over the Spanish land forces. A less passive commander might have been able to take advantage of the ill-organized U.S. landings to score a major victory.
These opportunities are well reflected in Remember the Maine!, which is really three sub games in one.
The first subgame is the tactical naval game, which uses a very simple line-em-up-and-shoot system that works well because actual tactics of the time were fairly simple. Both navies lined up in a single battle line for fleet actions and blasted away. Ships are rated for the number of primary guns and secondary guns and their ability to take hits. This subgame includes two scenarios: The historical Battle of Santiago and a hypothetical fight between the U.S. Flying Squadron and Spanish Adm. Cervera's force.
The second is a straightforward set of hex-and-counter land combat rules with mechanics familiar to anyone who has played that sort of game. Both armies were mostly infantry, with cavalry uncommon and often dismounted and artillery scarce as well. The most noteworthy twist is that troops are rated in quality from A to C, with "A" being good troops like artillerymen, U.S. regulars, some Spanish regulars and the Rough Riders. "C" quality troops are mostly Spanish militia and Cuban guerrillas, with "B" being everybody else. C-rated troops don't have zones of control, but other units do, with the usual rules about units in ZOCs being required to attack. These rules also include two scenarios: The historical Battle for San Juan Hill and a hypothetical battle for Havana.
Pulling it all together are a set of campaign rules which cover things like raiders, amphibious invasions, naval searches, coaling, random events and hurricanes. While the Spanish still have a challenging time ahead of them, the situation is not hopeless as the Americans will find themselves stretched pretty thin covering all the possible Spanish options.
The naval battle scenarios will take just a few minutes to play and the land battles can be finished in an hour. Playing the entire campaign is easily doable in an evening. The game is detailed enough that players will feel like they've gotten a good sense of what was historically possible while not getting too mired down in details.
The errata is fairly minor and won't affect gameplay significantly.

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