Monday, July 1, 2013

50 years of Gettysburg games -- From Charles Roberts to Bowen Simmons

I haven't had the chance to play Bowen Simmons' new The Guns of Gettysburg against anyone yet, but I did go through a solitaire play through last night.

Like Simmons earlier games, Bonaparte at Marengo and Napleon's Triumph, The Guns of Gettysburg doesn't owe much to the traditional hex-and-counter style of wargame that can trace its lineage back to Charles Roberts original Gettysburg from 1964 (Although that game actually used squares, not hexagons,  it was a grid). It's probably easier for nonwargamers to learn Simmons games because thee is less to unlearn

Still, laying the two games out side by side provides an interesting contrast. The older game was a seminal work in the development of the historical board wargaming hobby. Roberts first design -- Tactics -- was a purely fictional clash between identical armies, which had been the approach of all earlier wargames as well.

50 years of Gettysburg wargames
Roberts' breakthrough was the inspiration of modeling a historical battle. The appeal of fictional military exercises proved limited -- mostly to professional military men seeking training. The appeal of "You In Command" however, proved much more commercially viable and the board wargaming hobby was born.

Roberts' Gettysburg therefore holds an esteemed place in the annals of wargaming -- but, in truth, the game itself has not aged particularly well. While Roberts was blazing a new trail, being a pioneer has many drawbacks. You're mot likely to hack the best path through the woods on your first pass, after all. It's not a very sophisticated design and the terrain analysis, especially, is pretty simplistic. There's not benefit to the roads, for example. Still, it was a start. The Guns of Gettysburg, in contrast, is nothing if not a sophisticated look at the battle, with the map and the terrain analysis a key part of the game design. It's also a very nice looking game.


  1. It would be interesting to compare all the Gettysburg games, but that could be a lifetime job.

    I play the Tiller HPS Gettysburg a lot, and I find that the Union seems handicapped by poor morale and less effective shooting. Of course, I could be a bad general like Sickles.

  2. I need to get my Gettysburg game collection in one place for a photo.
    Nice article Seth.