The Battle of Buena Vista was one of two wargames in Command No. 40 (The other was Moscow Burning). With only 8 pages of rules one might expect this to be one of the simpler XTR offerings, even simplistic. But instead players will find themselves playing a surprisingly intricate and detailed wargame.
The map is an attractive Beth Queman production, Each hex represents 100 yards of ground.
Unit counters are gray for the Americans and white for the Mexicans, with full color icons depicting the soldiers from each side. Units are rated for morale and shock combat value. Fire combat effectiveness is determined by unit type and the range from a chart printed on the map.
Leaders are rated for morale and shock combat, but also have a fire combat rating. Some Mexican units are double-sized counters which have some difficulty maneuvering on the map but have four steps (using two counters) instead of the one- and two-step 1/2-inch counters.
Each game turn starts with an activation phase. Units then move and fight on the Saltillo Track, which represents an off-map area behind the American lines which saw some significant activity during the battle. Players then go through three "impulses" where units belonging to activated leaders from each side can move, shoot or shock attack. In each of the three impulses the Americans act, then the Mexicans. Finally the turn ends with an administrative phase.Each turn represents an hour of fighting. There are a maximum of 12 turns.
The number of leaders each side can activate is determined by die rolls. The Mexican player rolls a die and adds two for Gen. Santa Ana's leadership rating (unless he is wounded) and that's the number of leaders he can activate. With a good die, therefore, it's possible the Mexican player will be able to activate all 8 leaders in a turn.The procedure is different for the Americans. The army commander, Gen. Taylor, can activate three leaders per turn, although they may not be his first three choices! The US player points to a leader and rolls a die. On a 1-5 he activates, on a 6 he fails. He keeps going until he succeeds with three leaders. Taylor's second-in-command, Gen. Wool, can activate one leader under the same rules, except he only succeeds on a 1-4 roll. Wool and Taylor can also automatically activate units stacked with them with no die roll.
The U.S. force has a dozen formation leaders. Each U.S. formation leader typically commands two pieces. The Mexican formation leaders command 2-6 units each.
Both armies have some units, such as artillery batteries, that are exempt from command control.
Both sides have some interesting historical units, such as the Texas Rangers in Taylor's army and the U.S. deserter-manned San Patrico unit.
Firing is resolved by cross indexing the type of unit, the range and a die roll with results given as step losses and retreats. Shock combat is resolved on a different chart using the differential between the shock combat values of each unit. Both types of combat are modified by the terrain.
And what terrain it is, too. Buena Vista was fought over some of the most difficult terrain ever for a black powder army. While the Mexicans vastly outnumber the Yankees, they have to attack across some of the most restrictive and difficult terrain you'll ever see in a wargame. Large parts of the battlefield are slope hexes, which stop units when they enter. An impassible stream runs down the middle west side of the battlefield, crossable only at a few fords. The one usable ford near the Mexicans has to be "discovered" by them first. The battlefield is further divided by gullies, impassible cliffs and more slopes, with a few small trails here and there. The entire effect is reminiscent of Thermopolae, except the Americans have a lot more than 300 Spartans.
So the Mexicans have to struggle over hill and dale, trying to stay out of their own way with their cumbersome double-sized units while under fire from the Americans. Those Americans shoot better and often have better morale, too.
The only real advantage the Mexicans have is numbers.
Victory is assessed through victory points, which are awarded on a victory point track per step loss. Every time the step losses pass "4" and "9" a random event roll is made. Random events can result in the death or wounding of a leader, step losses, getting to move an opposing unit and other effects. The two totals are compared and the higher wins.The game ends after turn 12 unless ended sooner by the arrival of rain. Rain can arrive as a random event on any turn (which could be a problem, as it's possible the game could end as soon as the first "4" casualties are suffered by one side (a 1/18 chance, too, which is not insignificant). If not ended earlier by random event the rains can arrive at the beginnings of turns 10, 11 or 12 with die rolls of 1-2, 1-3 or 1-4 respectively. Altogether players should not expect the game to go the whole 12 turns.
For a game with relatively few rules, wargamers get a battle depicted in considerable detail. The game will take a full evening to complete unless the rains come early.
(Conditional Yes) for Wargamers if interested in the period. Others may find it a little too much detail for what is essentially a frontal assault on a formidable position.
(No) for Collectors: Nothing out of the ordinary.
(No) for Eurogamers: Way too much detail work, despite the brevity of the rules.