Saturday, June 23, 2012

Solitairing In Magnificent Style

Rebel brigades make a final rush for the Copse of Trees

Reviewing a solitaire wargame has special pitfalls. Oh, it's easier in one sense, because you don't have to find an opponent, but overall I think it's a challenge. Wargames are complex and subtle beasts by nature, and I can't tell you how many times I've played a game -- often for quite some time -- and found out I had been playing a rule incorrectly, missing a critical modifier or accidentally forgetting some key unit in the order of battle. Having an opponent sitting across the table who has a vested interest im making sure you don't miss anything that helps his side is a big help.

So with the caveat that I tried to play In Magnificent Style very, very correctly, it's always possible I missed something.

Solitaire wargames have tended to follow two basic models. One is the scripted adventure model of either/or paragraphs or other narrative tools that guide the player through a menu of choices. The classic example of this approach is Ambush!. The other approach is to create a framework where the player tries to accomplish some goal while stuff happens to him, generally using some sort of randomization mechanic. The classic example of this is B-17. In Magnificent Style is basically from this second approach, although a clever random events chit pull system give s it a little bot of the flavor of the paragraph system. This second approach works best when the player represents a side that had few courses of action available to it. In B-17 the player controls a single bomber that is part of a much larger formation of bombers. The player has no choice as to the target the tactics or the timing.

In Magnificent Style examines earlier example of a situation where there was plenty of valor, but few choices -- Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.  The Rebels taking part also had no choice as to the target, the tactics or the timing. The game is meant to be the first i n a similar series of games to be called Death or Glory! that will depict other doomed assaults.

The components are excellent. The most notable are the counters, which are my first exposure to the new laser-cut (as opposed to the traditional die-cut) technique. They are thicker than what you typically find with die cut counters and the precision of the cut is stunning. I wouldn't be surprised to see this become the new industry standard. There's no need to trip or clip counters with these babies. They fall out easily and cleanly and the laser cutting allows for naturally rounded corners.

The counters include the nine brigades, several dozen markers and double-sided event chits. there are even a couple of tiny dice in their own little holder on the counter sheet.

The 11" by 17" map is on light card stock and in full color. Also in full color are a player auid sheet and a copiously illustrated 20 -page rule book.

The player's objective to to get the nine brigades involved in the charge across the killing ground and capture the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge.

The key mechanic is a "push-your-luck" system where, in turn, the player activates one of the brigades and rolls two dice, cross indexing the rolls on  a "Movement Events Results table. So  a roll on the black die of "2" and on the white die of "3" is read as a "2-3" (not totaled as a "5") and referenced on the chart. The most common result is "Advance" which allows the brigade to move forward one square and then activate again. Other results include Determined Advance, On to Washington and C'mon Boys which allow advances with enhancements and negative results such as Light Fire, Heavy Fire and even Rout! which involve losing strength or ground.

The Push-Your-Luck element comes into play because each time the player activates a brigade instead of rolling on the table, he can elect to "Regroup" which moves the brigade Rally Point forward and therefore mitigates many of the negative effects on the table.

Many of the results also have the player drawing a chit and applying either the Blue side (helping the Union) or the Gray side (helping the player). Some Blue chits, for example, cause extra hits on the rebel brgades, add obstacles or make generals casualties. The gray chits similarly give the Rebels temproary protections, cause losses to the Union side or allow rerolls.

The Player has five turns to complete the charge, so there's constant tension between deciding whether to continue the advance, risking losses and setbacks or stop and consolidate your ground.

I found the game pretty challenging in my first five plays, managing a couple of draws while losing three times. Like many games of its ilks, it's hard to say whether there's really a winning strategy to follow. It's difficult to strike a balance between advancing and  consolidating. Being too aggressive seems guaranteed to wreck a brigade, but being too cautious will see the attack running out of time. The six brigades of Pickett and Trimble's divisions have 10 squares to cover, so the average pace of the advance has to be at least 2 squares per turn. Pettigrew has even further to go, needing to cover 11 squares. Complicating things is the fact that the Emmitsburg Road and Union lines each need to be crossed and each represents an "obstacle" that can only be crossed on 13 of the 36 possible rolls. When you consider that 11 of the 36 possible rolls are negative results the scale of the challenge becomes clear. It appears to me that, on average, the Rebel brigades need to try to advance 3-4 squares each turn. before stopping.

Overall I think the game succeeds in its aim. It's an entertaining solitaire exercise that is challenging enough to bear repeated playings and creates a lot of in-game drama and narrative. I found the rules extremely clear and well-written -- a must for a solitaire game -- and reasonably historical. I don't think it would count as a simulation -- the Rebel charge has  a chance to succeed, after all -- but it is definitely a wargame. One thing i don't like about a solitaire game is if it starts to feel like a puzzle -- something with a solution. In Magnificent Style doesn't have a solution. There aren't really any tactics to employ. Like Pickett, the player has just one role -- decide whether to push forward or stop and dress ranks.


  1. I'm just tiptoeing back into (light) wargaming a little bit, and that definitely includes solo wargames, both designed solos and 2-player games that solo reasonably well. This Death of Glory! series didn't jump out at me as something that would be interesting/entertaining, but now I wonder. I do have We Must Tell the Emperor and want to try that soon. Do you know it? Does it fall into one of those two solo game categories you describe?

  2. I'm not familiar with We Must Tell the Emperor, so I can't really say. I don't think In Magnificent Style has enough depth to be a main course for a wargamer, but rather a good filler solitaire game with a low impact in storage space and playing space.