Last night, I umpired a 4-player game of Black Powder. The players were, and remain, fine and upstanding members of our local club – all super fun fellows to play games with. This was the second game of Black Powder that I have played in my quest to play a handful of games with the system (thinking that I cannot fully appreciate/dislike something without multiple experiences).
One of the Confederate players (Bill) had previously played in 4 games and the other (Todd) had read the rules and has lots of experience with other “Priestly” rule sets. Both of the Union players (Doug and Matt) had not read the rules nor ever played before. We selected sides somewhat randomly, but in hindsight, the Confederate players should have been split up…as the learning of the mechanics of the game affected the Union outcome. But, who cares, we had some fun, all of the players (and the ump) will perform much better next time! Besides, the American Civil War was full of rookie generals.
We played across three tables that were 3X5 resulting in a 9X5 total table size. The two armies began deploying along the 9 foot ends.
The terrain is beginning to look good. My fences and fields and buildings and bridge look good. Doug’s trees were especially good looking (so good, that I left mine in the box!). I did not get a chance to mottle my big and very green cloth, so it looks terrible. Also, I don’t yet have enough fences and fields to cover the tabletop as much as I desire. I think you'll see that in the pictures.
Lastly, I need to look into a good solution for roads and rivers. I am using felt that I mottled with spray paint so that they did not look completely horrible. They’ll do for now, but I am on the lookout for ideas and suggestions.
The battle itself was a meeting engagement that pitted a Confederate division of three brigades against a Union division also of three brigades. The makeup of each division was previously randomly generated by me. The construction of each division was done by the players blindly drawing three brigades for their division from a pot of six. The sides were roughly even except that the Confederates had a touch more infantry while the Union had three artillery batteries to the Confederate’s one. All of the brigade commanders (and the Confederate division commander) were rated at 8 except for one Union brigade general that was a 9. Unfortunately for the Union, the division commander ended up being a 5 (“Fool”). This actually played a role in the battle once as the idiot failed to get a critical order to an artillery battery.
The battle was hottest in the center and on the Union left. While the Union did not break the center of the Confederate line, they remained intact and could have effectively resisted a Confederate advance. This advance would not come due to the destruction of the Union left and the desire of the Union commander to retire from the battle in its wake. The action on the Union left was hottest: rifle fire, artillery fire and lots of melee (in one of the cornfields!).
In the end, the Confederates held the field. The Union would pull back from their probing attack with one brigade pretty beat up but otherwise with a strong division remaining.
Union Troops Deploy Through a Wheatfield
Union Center and Right Moves Up
Yankees About to Charge!
Union General Giving Orders
Post-Battle Black Powder Conversation
After the battle, the five of us discussed Black Powder and the events of the battle.
For the two Union generals, getting used to the command mechanism and suffering through inexperience can frustrate and reduce fun. As the umpire, I tried to coach orders and help at the beginning, but doing too much of that is like giving orders to the players, so I tried to help but let them figure out how to give orders. I really do like the mechanism of giving orders and watching the men react. All players agreed that they would be better at giving orders next time, there is no substitute for experience.
One comment about giving orders was that perhaps too often a general would fail his command roll and the brigade would be paralyzed. While the results of one game cannot be taken as the norm, it did seem to happen a lot (mainly to the Union left, so can be partially attributed to bad dice luck that night). We discussed some remedies – the authors of the rules are quick to exclaim our freedom in amending the rules. One idea was that the division commander would have a number of “free moves” equal to his command rating that could be used to move failed regiments. Another idea was to allow a brigade general to keep giving orders to units that have not yet received orders even if he fails on orders to another group. So, even if some regiments failed to move, other still have a chance to move (I rather like this idea – fun is moving your men into action, even if it is not as fast as you desired…no fun is watching your boys remain static).
There were comments that the ranges were too long. Personally, I need to play more and do not see an issues with ranges at this time. Perhaps playing on a small table (the authors play on a 12X6) had an effect? My gut feeling is that the authors grew this range/movement system over years of basement games, so it probably does work out fine most of the time.
In the end, we did have some fun and learned some mechanics. Todd dutifully pointed out that we play to have fun. Doug said he would play them again, as he, too, cannot appreciate things after only one learning game. Matt, too, would play again and also spoke about some interesting campaign implications that he saw in the rules (I agree with you, sir!).
Lastly, another set of rules I’d like to try is “Regimental Fire and Fury” (play test version available for free download: http://www.fireandfury.com/aw/aw.html). I have always liked the mechanics of that game (I just didn’t like moving around brigades). Then, I’d like to run one of my special campaigns using either BP or RFnF.
I hope that the participants of the battle add their thoughts as comments to this post!