Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dixie: Shiloh review

Shiloh is the second set in the three-part series of Dixie collectible card games from Columbia Games.

One of the horde of titles that followed in the immediate wake of the phenomenal Magic: The Gathering in the mid-90s, Columbia actually seems to have been somewhat unclear on the concept of CCGs, because Dixie doesn't share some key aspects usually seen in such games.

For one thing, there's no use of rarity. While the decks were packaged randomly, every card had an equal likelihood of showing up. There were no "uncommon," "rare" or "ultra-rares" to frustrate players. On the other hand, the Shiloh set was quite large with 400 different cards for collectible purposes, as every general and regiment at the battle was represented with a card, as well as various battlefield features and events. From a playing standpoint, however, it wasn't necessary to have a really big set because there actually aren't that many functionallyy different cards, unlike Magic and similar games, where every card has a somewhat different game function.

Except for the "Special" cards, which do have unique effects, the majority of cards fall into distinct categories that are more or less the same. There are generals, who come in five different values (2/2; 1/2; 2/1;1/1;0/1), Infantry with combat values of 1 to 4, cavalry with combat values of 1 to 4 and artillery with values of 0 to 3, or terrain cards of three different types: creeks, fields and woods).

Because of this a playable deck wasn't too hard to acquire. A few decks were sufficient. Indeed, buying a lot of decks didn't make a lot of sense unless one was trying to complete the set because a game of Shiloh only uses 70 cards out of the 400 possible, or just 17.5 percent. This is the lowest ratio of any of the Dixie series. Bull Run uses 60 out of 200 and Gettysburg uses 54 out of 250, by comparison. Completist players can buy a complete set of cards from Columbia Games and forgo all the trouble and annoyance of the CCG route.

The game itself departs from the usual set up as well. While the battlefield is still apportioned between the two player's reserves and six "positions" in the left, center and right, in Shiloh the CSA player starts with all of his cards in the reserve and the Union player starts in possession of all six positions, which are called Left Front, Center Front and Right Front for the three positions accessible from the Confederate Reserve and Left Back, Center Back and Right Back for the three positions closest to the U.S. reserve.

Shiloh has just one scenario, the two-day battle. The Confederates draw 30 cards for their battle deck and draw 18 of those to form the initial army in the reserve. The remaining dozen cards are set aside to be drawn as reinforcements.

The Union player draws a 40-card battle deck and likewise draws 18 of those to form his initial deployment. At least one card must be placed in every position, but aside from that the U.S. deployment is free. The remaining 22 cards form the U.S. reinforcement deck.

The Confederates win by being in sole possession of the Center Back position by the end of the First Day. Time is kept via the CSA draw pile. Every turn the CSA draws two cards, when the draw pile is exhausted the day ends. (Therefore the U.S. loses his last turn and will have drawn just 10 cards) Both armies must then disengage any attacking engaged forces. The U.S. player then gets half of his remaining reinforcements (6 of 12 cards) as "overnight" arrivals and the second day begins with the U.S. player going first. The U.S. player wins by then capturing the Center Front position.

Left unsaid is whether there is a time limit , but I think it works best if the Union has to capture that position before his draw pile runs out. If using this house rule than the federals should draw 1 card per reinforcement phase. This gives the U.S. player the same 6 turns the C.S. player had to capture the winning ground.

It's an entertaining and quick game and can be played in less than an hour.

This review is based on the combined Dixie rules from the Columbia Games Web site, which contain some important changes from the rules included with the cards.

One change is how hits are defined, with Dixie switching over to the recent Columbia convention of low numbers being hits instead of the previous high numbers being better. So now, for example, an F3-firing unit hist on a 1, 2 or 3 instead of the previous 4, 5 or 6. This is more intuitive.

Hits on generals are handles differently as well. In the first edition generals could not get a hit until every other unit had a hit, but then they were instantly eliminated by the next hit in the position. This resulted in very high casualties for generals. Now generals are potentially hit by any roll of a "6" by a firing unit. It takes a second roll of a "6" to confirm the hit and actually kill the general. This makes generals much more survivable while also allowing for the possibility the general will be hit first. This can remove the general's morale benefit at a most inopportune time. Special cards that can take hist such as the Color Guard or Johnny Shiloh are handled the same as generals.

Related to these changes, the die roll for a friendly fire hit during artillery supporting fire has changed from the previous "1" to a "5" (The 6 being already spoken for with hits on generals).

There has also been a change in the definition of "enfilade fire" that will affect play of Shiloh. Under the prior rules enfilading fire in the "Front" three positions would have been F1 for Rebels and F2 for federals. Now it's is F1 for Rebels in all positions and F2 for federals in all positions.

One other change is the elimination of the "General Rank" rule which previously allowed a player to "stack" two leaders in a position so long as one of the generals outranked the other (i.e. two brigade commanders couldn't stack but a corps commander could stack with a brigade leader). Under the combined rules there's no provision for stacking leaders and only one is allowed per position.

The entire Dixie series is an entertaining and quick-playing battle game that provides some of the flavor of the historical event (colorful uniforms, famous locations, notable events) without being a simulation in nay sense of the term.

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