The most recent issue of C3i magazine contained two Table Battles scenarios that I designed at the request of Rodger MacGowan and Steve Carey. As a result, I got a comp copy of the magazine, including the two pack-in games. One of these is Gettysburg designed by Mark Herman, and I was pretty eager to get it on the table.
I think I learned the thing, played it, then sat and thought about it, all in the space of an hour and a half or so. Small map, handful of units, short breezy rules. As the designer says, it's not a detailed treatment of the battle, but something more akin to the old SPI Napoleon at Waterloo: a way to introduce people to wargaming.
Partially it does this by keeping things streamlined. Road bonuses aside, every hex costs a single movement point to enter - so there's never a moment where the newbie is going to have to try to remember that this hex costs two and that one three. There's no combat factors or odds ratios or CRTs, it's all opposed die rolls with modifiers.
Now, it's never enough just to take out the nettlesome bits; there are plenty of introductory games that try to do that, but when the designer's done there's nothing left for the prospective new recruit to chew on. Otherwise, what will entice them to dip their toe further in our grognardy waters? There needs to be some tension there, the spark of life, the feel of the history, and the decisions need to be granular enough to feel like they matter. And I think this game does that, and I think one of the cleverest ways in which it does it is through its movement and combat rules.
How it works is that during the turn's movement phase, the players take turns activating a single unit. I go, you go, I go, you go, et cetera. The same unit can be activated over and over again in the turn, though once it comes within two hexes of an enemy unit, it stops and is flipped to its battle formation side, where its movement factor is reduced to one. It can keep moving after that on a future activation, and should if it wants to attack in the combat phase, but it's only going to move one hex. So far so good, but here comes the clever part.
On their go, a player can pass - meaning that they'll be conducting no further movement this turn. The other player rolls a die, and adds the number of units that aren't currently in EZOC, and the modified result is the number of marches they have left. A similar unmodified roll happens after a player passes in the combat phase, which likewise takes an alternating form, and doesn't limit the number of times that a unit can attack (or be attacked).
Here's the thing: if I'm three or four hexes away from an enemy unit, it's going to take me at least two marches to get adjacent to them. So depending on that roll, I may or may not have sufficient marches to get my forces ready to attack. The moment one of the players passes is a hinge point upon which the tempo of the phase turns. Suddenly the order in which I move my dudes matters. Because the Union position is largely defensive, I find that they're more likely to pass first, which creates a situation in which the hitherto orderly Confederates are suddenly forced to improvise. What I had intended to be coordinated assaults all up and down the line become hodge-podge little affairs. That scans pretty well not only with my understanding of the battle - none of Lee's battle plans ever quite got executed the way he wanted them to - but also of the command-control problems of the entire period, the sheer and seemingly impossible task of getting tens of thousands of men to all be at the right place at the right time.
I think the combat phase is even more thematic. The same unit can attack multiple times, or be attacked multiple times. Now, stalemates are pretty unlikely, so one of those two units is going to end up retreating or being removed from the map (temporarily or permanently), but a victorious unit that's adjacent to another enemy can press their advantage, or a defender that shrugged off one unit's assault now has to contend with another's. I think the back-and-forth nature of the phase does some of the heavy lifting here, underlining the sense of grinding collision even if each individual pair of die rolls might prove to be decisive.
I'll admit when I first unfolded the map - before I had even cracked open the rulebook - and I saw that there were only six turns, each half a day long, I was briefly concerned that there is no way that this would get across how long some of the fighting went on or how fierce it was. But the alternating marches and battles really go a long way toward allowing for something akin to historical activity levels, while providing a great moment-to-moment decision space.I was quite taken with the thing. I think it plays to the strengths of the small game format while avoiding the pitfalls, and I highly recommend it.