Monday, May 19, 2008

Bunker Hill review

If XTR were into naming it's game systems they could have called the one initaited by Hougoumont the "desperate defense" series. Featuring stubborn defenses of fortified locales in the black powder era, Bunker Hill: A Dear Bought Victory was the second game to appear in Command Magazine using the innovative hex-and-counter wargame mechanics of Hougoumont.

The game was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 32 in 1995. A very tactical game, each turn represents just 10 minutes of real time and each hex is 35 yards across. Each stacking point represents 25 soldiers. Unit counters represent companies and half-companies from the Colonial militia and British armies. The 22 turns cover the fighting from 2 to 5:30 p.m.

While the British finally drove the militiamen from their position, it was at a horrfic cost. The militaimen, by standing up to the regulars, showed that the American Revolution was going to see some serious fighting, while making the British, especially their comander, Gen. William Howe, wary of attacking entrenched Americans for the rest of the war.

The 16-page rule book describes a game of moderate complexity by wargame standards. The Beth Queman map is functional, although not especially attractive, with strong colors that tend to overshadow the more subtle unit counters. The map shows most of the Charlestown peninsula where the battle took place. Besides the hill slopes, other key terrain depicted is the densely-settled Charlestown, the Colonial fortifications, the road network and the many stone walls criss-crossing the area.

The 178 5/8-inch counters are illustrated with color icons of the soldiers and militiamen, with an identifying formation ID number, fire modifier, morale rating and a stacking value. The Americans have stacking values ranging from 1 to 3 while the British have a stacking value of “2.“ The reverse side of each unit has half the stacking value. Morale values run from “1” (for step reduced militiamen) to “6” (British Grenadiers and Light Infantry). Both sides have a number of leaders who provide movement and morale benefits. Most units have a movement allowance of 12, although many British units have a speed of 8 until they drop their packs later in the day. The two sides are differentiated by the background colors, blue for Massachusetts troops, gray for New Hampshire troops and green for Connecticut troops on the Colonial side and light red for the British.

Each player turn starts with a reinforcement phase. The player then moves and fires his units (firing is a function of movement and costs 8 movement points). During the movement/fire phase the enemy player can interrupt to conduct a reaction move/fire with his own units within range. (In typical XTR fashion this tactic is given the colorful moniker “Boom and Zoom.) Mastering the “Boom and Zoom” move is a key part of playing the game well. After all movement the phasing player conducts melee. Unlike Hougoumont, not every unit can take advantage of the Boom and Zoom technique, as they have to be under command control to use it. Also limiting American use of the technique is an ammunition limitation rule. Every time the Americans fire there is a good chance they will run out of ammunition and be removed from the map. All they have to do is roll greater than the current morale. As the best American morale is a "3" one can see that most of them are one-shot wonders.

Firing is conducted unit by unit, with the die roll modified according to the number on the counter. The die roll is compared to the number of steps in the target hex. Often this will mean an automatic hit on the large stacks the British player will be using to maximize his melee power. Most hexes have a stacking limit of 12.

The casualty count will run heavily against the British until they can close into melee.

Both sides start with just part of their forces available. Throughout the battle more Americans will brave the British naval interdiction fire across the narrow neck and join the fight, although few, if any, will make it to the front line.

If the initial Britsh assaults fail they can call a special "Reorganization turn" which bring reinforcements and returns eliminated units, but at the cost of a victory point.

The game itself is a tense contest as the British try to fight their way into the Ameircan position at some kind of acceptable cost.

The game is won on victory points. The British get two each for capturing the redoubt on Breed's Hill, capturing the Neck and exiting more steps off the West edge than the Americans. Getting all six would represent a sweeping victory, while the historical result was just two (for the redoubt). The Americans get one victory point for each Reorganization turn the British use, one Victory Point if they still hold the redoubt and one for every 25 steps of British eliminated. The historical result was a "three" for the casualties and the two reorganization turns.

A variation on the game system also later appeared in “Dark Victory” (The Alamo) in a later issue of Command.

The game is playable in one long evening and only takes about 10 minutes to set up.

There are five scenarios.

The first is an unbalanced teaching scenario of the worst part of the British assault. The designer notes: "This scenario is intentionally unbalanced since younger players like to win and will return to play again only if they do win."

The second scenario is the historical scenario.

The third scenario looks at an earlier landing proposed by Gen. Clinton, one of Howe's subordinates. Because of the tides, this earlier landing would have had to be in Charlestown.

The fourth scenario looks at a proposed landing behind the American line suggested by Gen. Clinton. This places a smaller force of British between the Americans on the hill and their base off map. It's the only scenario where the Americans will attack.

The fifth scenario modifies Clinton's proposed attack with a supporting attack by Howe, so it is a combination of the historical scenario and Clinton's idea.


(Yes) For Wargamers: It manages to make a bloody frontal assault into an interesting game.

(No) For Collectors.

(No) For Euro gamers: Game play is intricate and detailed, even by wargame standards, with a lot of movement factor counting and other math.

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