Alternative Titles/Edition History:
1st Edition, 2014; 2nd Edition ("Gettysburg Retromap 2nd Edition"), 2015
Critical Hit (1st Edition, 2014; 2nd Edition, 2015)
Country of Origin:
1st Edition: 8 pages rules, 8 12" x 18" map panels (to form two different maps), 788 die-cut counters, 1 folding charts page, 10 scenarios
2nd Edition ("Gettysburg Retromap 2nd Edition"): Same as above, but with different map graphics.Commentary:
Gettysburg: Turning Point: 1863 (hereinafter GTP) is an attempt by Critical Hit to use the basic ASL system as a way to simulate not World War II, the war and era for which ASL was actually designed, but rather the American Civil War, a conflict that occurred 80 years earlier, with different weapons and vastly different tactical dynamics. To say that this is problematic is an understatement of considerable magnitude.
Without having to go into all the myriad ways in which the Civil War and World War II were totally different, perhaps one simple example might suffice to illustrate how wrongheaded the notion is. In World War II, the squad was the basic tactical element of maneuver and fighting (and represented as such by ASL). However, during the American Civil War, it was not the squad, nor the platoon, but really the company. Though lower levels existed for organizational and some marching and other purposes, it was companies that were really the lowest meaningful tactical unit during the Civil War. Thus any game that attempts to reach down past the company level to some lower level in order to represent the Civil War is fundamentally wrongheaded from the get-go.
Nevertheless, that is exactly what GTP attempts to do–and in only 8 total pages of rules, to boot. Though, in its own way, it is a serious attempt to treat tactical Civil War conflict, even in concept it is simply not adequate. You can’t compare apples to oranges, much less, as in this case, try to wrap an orange peel around an apple and label it citrus.
GTP is the first “CWASL” module, which presumably stands for Civil War: Advanced Squad Leader, although Critical Hit can’t actually explain that, as both ASL and Advanced Squad Leader are trademarked terms for other companies. Two expansion modules were released at the same time as GTP, both covering additional portions of the Gettysburg battlefield: Devil’s Den and Into the Wheatfield. This also serves as notice that GTP does not cover the entire battle of Gettysburg, but rather only two small slices of it: McPherson’s Ridge and the Bliss Farm.
GTP originated with an ATS module published by Critical Hit several years earlier with the same name. The ATS version was designed by Mark Johnson, an actual historian and retired Army officer who wanted to try to port ATS to the Civil War and designed a set of rules to do so. Ray Tapio published this attempt, with changes. Then, according to Johnson, Tapio himself created an ASL version of GTP without input or assistance from Johnson (though Johnson was also familiar with ASL). Johnson has been rather caustic even of the ATS version of GTP, pointing out, on the on-line forum Boardgamegeek, various rules changes made by Ray Tapio to the original rules submitted by Johnson, allegedly for the worse, and asserting that the ATS version of the game was published by Critical Hit with no prior playtesting (two examples being “…it looks like you found another bit of errata that should have been corrected during playtesting, which I’m sure would have happened if CH had playtested this game before publishing it,” and “Critical Hit has a penchant for publishing games that do not go through much of a playtesting process, and the release of this game unfortunately adhered to that somewhat unique process.”). There is no evidence that the ASL version of GTP received any playtesting, either, and no playtester credits are provided with the module.
Since the ASL version of GTP was published, there have been a number of complaints on the Internet about errata and design issues. For example, one odd quirk of the CWASL rules system is that often leaders are randomly generated. Depending on the scenario, an OB will have all or, more often, most of of a side’s leaders be determined randomly. When leaders are determined randomly, dice are rolled on a Leader Table to choose each leader. The most common result, which occurs on a DR of 7 or 8, is the generation of an 8-0 leader. However, both the Union and Confederate countermixes have a grand total of 1 8-0 unit each. What this means is that in all of the scenarios in GTP it is actually possible–and in a number of the scenarios more likely than not–to exceed the countermix in leaders. What is done then? The rules do not say, though a chart indicates that a leader of the “next lower value, followed by the next highest,” is chosen. This is likely to happen all the time.
So let’s explore these rules a little bit. Obviously, at only 8 pages, the rules are superficial at best. In very broad strokes, they try to transport ASL back to the mid-19th century. They start off by changing scales. “Squads” in GTP actually represent “20-25 soldiers,” or about 1/4 of a full-strength company. Leaders, at least, still represent one man and not conjoined twins. Bizarrely, CC firepower factors for MMCs (except crews) are doubled in close combat. Note, however, that close combat is still, like original ASL, odds-based, so doubling firepower factors HAS NO PRACTICAL EFFECT except to make them butt-kickers when used against crews. This is ironic, as it is the exact opposite of what original designer Mark Johnson intended–he doubled the firepower factors of crews in close combat, not regular “squads,” because gun crews so desperately defended their guns against attack.
Union and Confederates alike basically have all the same squad types (4-4-8, 4-3-8, both elite; 4-4-7, 4-3-7, both first line; 3-3-6, 3-2-6, both second line; and 3-3-5, 3-2-5, both conscript. Though these are squad types that are essentially differentiated by weapon types, they can still Battle Harden; presumably better weapons dropped from the skies. Both sides also have 4-5-8 and 4-2-8 squads that cannot Battle Harden, and the Union has a similar 5-5-8 squad. Presumably these are used for cavalry, although the ranges are peculiar in that they seem to represent either breechloading rifles or swords and pistols, but not carbines.
Leaders, at least the better ones, are treated “as if they were Japanese SMC,” more or less. In addition to leaders and heroes and adjutants/couriers (see below), there are also “Color Guard” SMC which basically wave a flag that give a morale bonus.
For all units, stacking is greatly increased. In effect, it is doubled: players can stack up to 6 “squads” and 6 SMC in a hex without penalty. Cavalry, however, remain as in ASL. Players can stack up to 2 guns per hex without penalty. This does not cause as much of a stacking issue as one might think, thanks to the absence of support weapons. Readers should note that with all of these units stacked together in a single hex, GTP cannot easily simulate the linear warfare that actually predominated.
Another difference is long range fire, which is greatly limited. Only units with a normal range of 4 or more can have normal long range fire; units with a range of three only get one additional hex of range with LRF, while units with a range of 2 or less don’t get any at all. This is because range is the key differentiation between differently-armed units in GTP.
Units under certain circumstances can be “Prone,” a condition marked by a counter, which make them a tad harder to hit but cause them to fire at half-strength. In the opposite of prone, units can also conduct bayonet charges, which are basically human waves. Units do not automatically participate, however, but must pass a TC.
GTP has extensive command rules (insofar as anything in an 8-page rulebook can be considered extensive). “Squads” and gun crews all have parent organizations (typically regiments or batteries). All MMC/SMC must set up stacked with or adjacent to at least 1 MMC/SMC of the regiment “that is within C2 Range of the parent unit’s Commanding Officer.” “C2 Range” is defined as 2 x leadership DRM (with a 1-hex minimum). Units within C2 range are considered in command. Commanders can possibly generate “adjutant/couriers” to extend their C2 range (a dubious notion). Units can be out of command and/or isolated. If Isolated but not Out of Command, they must “close up” at “the first opportunity” and “move towards the nearest Location containing a leader of the same Command,” using CX and moving as a stack. The rules provide nowhere near the level of specificity and guidance required–does this mean they must move into/through enemy units? Nearest Location in hexes or in MF? Units in command suffer Casualty Reduction rather than Breaking.
Movement is similarly complicated, because the base unit is not the company but the arbitrary “squad.” In Command MMCs only move as multi-unit stacks called “platoons” for game purposes and using Platoon Movement. Essentially, eligible units may not be excluded from such a platoon. Units may also move with “Column” movement as per E11.5.
Obviously, the entire movement system is unwieldy and, because of the stacking and command rules, are as likely to cause big blobs to move around the map rather than linear formations. Also note that there are no facing rules anywhere–units are easily able to fire in any direction (units can be subjected to something called Flanking Fire, though).
Fire rules also receive considerable modification, because of the relative lack of aimed fire. Rather, multi-hex fire groups place a “point of aim” counter at a target hex and the collective firepower is “distributed” among various targets in a somewhat complicated way.
Obviously, AFVs are not present in GTP, but artillery certainly is. GTP provides for a very limited form of OBA but basically uses direct fire. Gun rules are more or less as they are in ASL, with some differences. Four types of ammunition are available: Solid Shot, Shell, Case Shot, and Canister. Guns can occasionally burst. Certain leaders can modify the fire of Guns.
Other rules provide for skirmishers, battlefield smoke, a few terrain types (like split-rail fences), and some Civil War-era entrenchments like Abatis.
Overall, the rules represent a fairly serious effort to replicate Civil War combat, but are more or less doomed by their shortness/incompleteness, lack of development and, especially, the inherent incompatibility of ASL with Civil War era movement and combat. Whatever players will get, it won’t really be Civil War tactical combat.
In addition to the rules, there is a set of charts, which not only looks like an ASL “Quick Reference Data Chart,” complete with IIFT, but was actually cribbed from one, which one can tell from the residue left behind, such as the Heat of Battle chart that refers to Banzais, Parachutes, and Panjis. You may remember Longstreet conducting a parachuting banzai into a nest of panjis during the Seven Days.
The counters use a blue-gray to represent Union troops and a gray-gray to represent Confederate troops. Under less than optimal lighting conditions, there is not a ton of difference between the two shades. A few prominent leaders bear historical names, such as the 10-4 (!) Joshua Chamberlain counter, but for lesser leaders, as well as heroes, Critical Hit did not even bother to come up with different names, so Union and Confederates alike have the same Captain Dixon, the same Captain Cook, the same Corporal Ray, and so forth. How much effort would it have been to type in different names?
The maps are printed on 12″ x 18″ light cardstock/heavy paper glossy map panels, which must be assembled into maps. For the small map, representing the Bliss Farm, this is not a problem, but assembling six map panels for McPherson’s ridge is a pain. The artwork is more or less standard (for Critical Hit) ASL artwork. A lot of the buildings are clones of each other and the fence depictions are weird, but more so because of the decision to strictly have them adhere to hexsides, which means that fences do not appear in a straight line, but as crazy zigzag fences, an effect made doubly bizarre when two fences appear adjacent to a road like the Chambersburg Pike. The various levels in the maps are all shades of green and may not be sufficiently differentiated to all players’ content.
GTP has a problem when it comes to scenarios, a problem that every single Civil War tactical game ever published has shared, because of the nature of Civil War actions. Designers can either seek out tiny, irrelevant actions to portray, skirmishes in the middle of nowhere that had little effect on the overall war, or they can seek out tiny slices of large, important battles and divorce those slices from their context. The latter option is what GTP has chosen, depicting various tiny slices of the Battle of Gettysburg, which was the largest battle waged in the Western Hemisphere. GTP comes with 10 scenarios, 6 for McPherson’s Ridge and 4 for the Bliss Farm. They all seem odd in that the number of units tend to be dwarfed by the map area, especially with the stacking rules, so that the actions seem to be very isolated actions, when in fact there were many other units fighting very nearby. As a result, the scenarios simply don’t seem very Gettysburgish–to say nothing of how the rules themselves work.
GTP sells for $89.95, which is fairly expensive for what is offered. For virtually the same price, one could mosey over to GMT’s website and purchase Three Days of Gettysburg, a massive game on the entire battle, designed by a well-known designer of Civil War games, with counter and map artwork by three of the most respected wargame artists in the business. Unlike GTP, the GMT game was designed from the ground up to simulate Civil War combat and does so well. The choice seems rather obvious. ASL is World War II, not the Civil War.
2nd Edition (“Retro Map 2nd Edition”) Comments: In 2015, only a short time after the publication of GTP, Critical Hit announced a 2nd Edition of the module, complete with $10 price hike, in which the only significant difference seems to be the substitution of ASL geoboard-style artwork for the artwork of the 1st Edition. It is not at all clear why this occurred, although–unlike the other modules–the wheatfield artwork in this module is so irritating that it is understandable why someone might want an alternative. However, there may have also been a falling out with the original artist, which necessitated a re-do of the artwork so that new modules would have artwork compatible with the old. In any case, the new artwork is, overall, better than the original artwork. Ostensibly the play aid was also revised.
2016 Note: In early 2016, at the time Critical Hit mailed out copies of its Culp’s Hill and Pickett’s Charge modules to those foolish enough to have purchased them, it also sent a baggie with new versions of the first four of the GTP scenarios, which all have a “ver 2.1” printed on them.
I was originally quite excited about this release, and said so over at BGG. Alas, I let my deep love of the ACW cloud my judgment. Your thoughtful and thorough review exposes just how overwhelmingly wrong the entire endeavor is.
I would still like to see a game about company-level ACW actions, but THIS is not it.
Mark Brownell says
Great review. You have to make up a lot of “house rules” to
enjoy this game. If you really love small unit actions, it is worth it. CH has been advertising a new Civil War series
for about three years now, but I haven’t heard anything about it. Probably isn’t even available yet. Any news on these three modules????