So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 2, 1863 - Battle Cry (A Review)

July 2, 1863 was the day the North nearly lost the American Civil War.  On that day, the South nearly turned the Union flank at Little Round Top, which would have compromised the whole Union position.  As many people know, thanks to famous scene in the movie Gettysburg, the feats of men like Joshua Chamberlain saved the North's position and turned the tide of the Civil War.

On July 4, 1863, Lee began his withdrawal.  One hundred fifty years later, my son and I sat down and replayed the events at Little Round Top, Devil's Den, and the surrounding area in the game Battle Cry.  The similarities and differences to history were interesting.  Both from a historical and gaming perspective, it made sense for me to take Little Round Top and attempt to turn the Union flank.  I focused on Devil's Den first, and paid for it.  The heaviest losses were suffered there for both sides.  At first, it looked like the Union (my son) was going to hold Devil's Den and use it as a base to advance, but my artillery and concentrated rifle fire were the source of the Union's heavy casualties.

At the same time, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield played only minor roles.  The Union actually crossed the Emmetsburg Road in front of the Peach Orchard, and assaulted the South's troops in the woods.  The casualties there were pretty high, too.

In the end, the Union won.

Battle Cry is a tactical wargame designed for two players to revisit Civil War battles.  It is the first of the Command & Colors system designed by Richard Borg, and is reputed to be the simplest of them.  Each side has troops which reflect the troops that actually participated in the historical battle.  On your turn, you will play a card from your hand that will determine what troops can be ordered.  Ordered troops may move or battle, and generally can do both.  The terrain of the battlefield impacts the ability to move and fire effectively, and shapes the way the game is played.  At the end of your turn you draw another card.  The goal is to eliminate six of your opponents army units or generals in combination.

Certainly, Battle Cry is light for a wargame; in general the wargame genre is characterized by several hours of very detailed interaction.  Don't get the idea that this is the Stratego or Broadside you had as a kid, or anything like the American Heritage game Battle-Cry. This game definitely gives some feel for the tactical decisions and frustrations that were faced in July of 1863.  I really enjoy Battle Cry, and it definitely fits in the family game closet.  Here's why:

Simplicity.  Many tactical games come closer to a simulation.  I like those too; they often deal with very specific issues for the battle they portray - supply, multiple types of weaponry, and many types of terrain.  Battle Cry has three types of units: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  They also toss in leaders.  There are only a few types of terrain, but enough to portray the battlefield in broad strokes and influence the course of the battle.  This simplicity means that it's easy to learn for children as well as casual gamers.  It also means that games last 45 minutes to an hour - much shorter than your average wargame.

Scenarios.  Battle Cry has a plain battlefield out of the box.  That is to say it models flat, open ground with a hexagonal pattern superimposed on it.  Terrain comes in the form of hexagonal tiles, which are set on the board to reproduce the actual battlefield.  There is a pretty good supply of terrain tiles, and the fact that they are placed means they can be moved around to simulate other battlefields.  In fact, the game comes with 15 different battle scenarios; each one is a historic battle of the Civil War.  There are two for Gettysburg: the one I described above, and a scenario for Pickett's Charge.  (We've played this one before and it was extremely close to the historical result; the South charged right up to the Union lines and was repulsed.)  There is a lot of replayability in the box.

Command and Control.  The use of cards to determine which troops will act in a turn adds a level of command complexity.  While you may know you want to take that hill, you may not have the card that allows you to move the nearby troops.  This reflects the frustration of the battlefield general who cannot get his troops to execute in a timely manner, if at all.  However, this is done so elegantly with the cards that it doesn't add to the game's complexity.

Confederate soldiers begin their march towards the Peach Orchard
Awesomeness. Often the units of a wargame are cardboard chits or wooden blocks.  Not this game.  This game comes with little army men in action poses, which are colored blue for the North and gray for the South.  I know I played with my cousin's army men for hours.  This is playing with army men with rules!  These figures are not just for show.  Taking figures off the board actually reflects a units losses.  A high Awesomeness Factor and functionality make this a great feature.

This is the new version of the game, available now.
(Promotional image)
I will admit this game is not for everyone.  Wargames will not appeal to all.  They do portray violence, though not in the same graphic detail that many video games do.  At the same time, I have had some great conversations about the nature of war and our nation's history as a result of playing these games.

The version I have is out of print, but a few years ago it was reprinted as a 150th Civil War Anniversary edition.  There are a few tweaks to the rules, but all-in-all it's the same game.  This game is a little more expensive than your normal hobby game, but given the contents and replayability, it is definitely worth it.  I highly recommend it.

It's Your Move!

Battle Cry
  • 2 players
  • 45 - 60 minutes
  • ages 10+
Recommended / Kid friendly

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