Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hoorah! review

Hoorah! Six Bridges: The Battle of Pittsburgh, 1 October, 1863 is a hex-and-counter wargame portraying a fictional battle for Pittsburgh during the American Civil War. A sequel to XTR’s Wahoo! Game, Hoorah assumes Lee won a substantial victory at Gettysburg and then followed up with a successful assault on Washington, D.C. Rather than ending the war, however, these battles widened it into a world war as Britain and France intervene on behalf of the Confederacy while Prussia and Russia come in on the Union side. In this new, wider, war, Lee decides to sever the east-west rail links of the United States by capturing Pittsburgh, in conjunction with a British Army from Canada. Meanwhile, Grant, leading the twice-defeated Army of the Potomac, tries to hold onto the city until help arrives in the form of Gen. Sherman and his western army and the river gunboat flotilla.

It was the issue game in issue No. 39 of Command Magazine in 1996. Also in that issue was Strike North, reviewed elsewhere. The one scenario covers the day-long battle with each turn representing 45 minutes and each hex about 400 yards. The Beth Queman map depicts the city of Pittsburgh, and the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers into the Ohio River. Units are brigades of infantry and cavalry, battalions of guns and single gunboats. The 15-page rulebook describes a game of moderate complexity by wargame standards with fairly standard Civil War brigade-level rules for combat and movement. All federal unit have one step and are therefore eliminated with a loss, while the British (well-trained) and Confederates (win streak) have two steps. The second step has one less combat and movement factor. This is the only thing I might have done differently. While the Army of the Potomac (defeated so many times, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Washington in this timeline) deserves a fragile morale, I would have given the troops from the U.S. Army of the Tennessee (also unbeaten to this point) two steps as well. If players agree they can have a house rule to that effect. The Army of the Tennessee only has 11 brigades, so this will not change the game enormously.

The game uses a chit-pull corps activation mechanic, where all the units of a corps can move and fight together when their chit is pulled from a cup. The defending Union Army of the Potomac comprises six corps (I, II, VI, XI, XII and Cavalry) while the attacking Confederates are organized into three infantry corps and Stuart’s cavalry.

Compared to the historical units the Army of the Potomac is missing units lost in the first two battles or detached. The most significant missing formation is the Union Artillery Reserve, lost at Gettysburg. The rebel Army of North Virginia is stronger in artillery than the historical force, mostly equipped with guns and ammunition captured from that Artillery Reserve.

Coming in as reinforcements are the two-corps strong British Expeditionary Force, the three-corps strong U.S. Army of Tennessee and the 10-ship U.S.N. gunboat flotilla.

Finally, a series of (presumably hastily-constructed) Union forts and batteries surround the city.

The game revolves around the six bridges around Pittsburgh. At the end of 12 turns (nine hours) the Confederate player rolls a die. If he rolls less than or equal to the number of bridges he controls, he wins. Otherwise the Federals win a game victory. (The fact that there’s a battle at Pittsburgh at all can only be regarded as a dire strategic situation from the federal point of view!

While these sort of alternate history games are not for everyone -- and the situation admittedly far-fetched -- it does give the players a chance to explore a very unusual and challenging situation that is arguably more realistic in many ways than a more standard historical treatment.

For example, no matter how well done, every Gettysburg game is faced with the fact that both players have far more situational awareness than the actual commanders. Historically the actual confederate commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee, did not know exactly what he was facing, especially on the first day. He hoped he was catching part of the Union army unsupported and believed he had a chance to inflict a serious defeat on at least two corps. But the player Lee knows that he is facing the whole federal army and even has a list of what roads they are taking and when they will arrive.

So Hoorah provides players a chance to test their generalship in an unprecedented battle situation, where they have only a general idea of what COULD happen and do not have the guidance of what DID happen to help.

Besides the inherent chaos of the chit-pull mechanic the game adds a highly variable reinforcement rule and a combat results table with way more than the usual variability.

Dealing the CRT first, we note that it uses a two-die roll summed result instead of the typical D6 chart. With 11 different possible results ranging from 1/36 to 1/6-chance of occurring no combat is a sure thing except at the most extreme odds. Even a 1-5 attack has some fluke chance of carrying a position while even a 5-1 attack could be repulsed!

Meanwhile, both sides will be anxiously awaiting the reinforcements. Each group (BEF, river flotilla, Army of Tennessee and, optionally, Stuart’s horsemen) arrives on a die roll of a “1.” Over the course of a 12-turn game, all should arrive, but there is no guarantee when. A force that arrives on the first turn is rather more helpful than one that arrives on turn 11 or 12, for example. And there is no guarantee that they will arrive at all. We’ve all been unlucky enough to roll a die 12 times and NOT roll the “1” we need.

If a force does arrive, where it arrives is subject to further randomization. The BEF and Army of the Tennessee each have six arrival zones, with an unequal chance of arriving at each one. In MOST games both armies will arrive West of the Allegheny, across the river from Pittsburgh, leading to a big battle outside Allegheny City. But, sometimes, the BEF will show up from the East, behind the CSA line. And sometimes Sherman will appear south of the Monongahela. If detached on a “sweep” at the beginning of the game, Stuart’s six cavalry brigades could also show up either north or south of the city. Only the gunboats, necessarily restricted to the river, have only one entry zone.

The whole situation is extremely fluid. It has the potential to be very unbalanced (For example, flotilla and Army of Tennessee never arrive, BEF and horsemen arrive early on both flanks of the city, leading to the Army of the Potomac being surrounded and overwhelmed and all six bridges captured for an automatic victory) but real battles are seldom “fair.” The game is best looked at as a test of generalship (and even character) although not necessarily a fair test of skill. Unlike many unbalanced wargames, here switching sides and playing again will not be any help. (Now playing the Rebels, our unlucky former federal player from the first example sees with horror the flotilla and Army of Tennessee arrive early and bolster his foe’s line to stall the attack. Meanwhile the BEF arrives late and behind the Rebel line, which is already too crowded with units and that damn Stuart never does show up, leading to none of the bridges being captured and no chance of victory!). No, the relative generalship will have to be settled in the time-honored historical fashion, with arguments and recriminations afterwards!

The game takes about 20 minutes to set up and can be played in one sitting.


(Yes) For Wargamers: A very different challenge from the usual.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: A hex-and-counter wargames with intricate and detailed rules.

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