Flying Pig Games - Ghost Front

GrogHeads Reviews Cruel Morning: Shiloh 1862

Tiny Battle Publishing promises “Tiny Package. Big Fun!” Does Shiloh live up to it?  ~

Robert Ellis, 18 April 2018

– Designed by Sean Chick
– Published by Tiny Battle Publishing
– Scale is approximately 1/3 mile per hex (1700ft)
– Each turn is one hour.
– Units are Brigades.

The American Civil War has held a fascination for me for a great many years, and not only have I read an enormous number of books on the subject, I’ve also played a fair number of games, both board and PC varieties. However, the last, and as far as I remember, only game based on Shiloh that I’ve ever played, was the old 2 map SPI ‘Bloody April ‘from 1979 a bit of a monster game and one of the first in the ‘Great Battles of the American Civil War’ series. It was quite hard work to play, and I suspect it put me off from gaming that battle ever since.

Therefore, I was quite pleased at being given the chance to review a comparatively new game on the subject, albeit one based on a much different scale.

So, lets open the zip-lock bag and see what we get.

There is a 24 page Rulebook, several pages of which contains extensive scenario and set-up information, plus one optional rule. According to the game page on TBP website, this is a ‘full colour’ rulebook, but, apart from the cover, and a very few colour illustrations on pages 2 & 3, colour is limited to some highlighted text only.

I was somewhat disappointed that there are no examples of play included, the inclusion of which would have been of no little assistance, especially for less experienced players. I admit that I found some of the rules a little confusing. As is my usual practice, I took a quick look on the games page on BGG to see what questions others were asking, and found this comment from the designer, who seems to be very active and helpful:

‘In terms of movement, I say do as you will with the rules because they have been rewritten for simplicity for the final edition of the rules (due to come out with a Perryville & Stones River double pack). If you want I will share those rules on here with you. Just let me know’

Its not clear if the rewritten rules will be compatible with this game.

The single 17” x 11” map is quite striking, although my first impression was that the scale used for such a fairly large battle seemed to be somewhat restrictive. Anyway, we shall see how that works out in play.

2 x sheets of 5/8” counters, 70 per sheet.

I think that the counters have been laser cut, as they have very neat rounded corners and are attached to the sprue at only one point on the top edge of the counter.

The counters are quite effective, although I puzzled a bit as to what the illustration was on what I decided were the cavalry counters (there is no illustration in the rule book to identify cavalry units). It is, apparently, a sabre.

 

Brigades belonging to a division are colour coded with an edge stripe, which works well in theory, but the problems that I found is that there is, in some cases, insufficient contrast between the darker blues, greens and reds used which make it quite difficult to tell the brigades from different divisions apart at times. Also, there is unit info text printed on the stripe, and the black text used is very difficult to read where the background colour is dark.

I also felt that there is a distinct lack of markers, although I understand that there is a restriction on the number of counters that can be included in a budget price game. However, there are 10 ‘out of command’ markers which have the same information printed on both side of the counter, and maybe the reverse side could have been better utilised for other game markers.

Furthermore, there are 5 counters marked as being for ‘Beast at the Gates’ but there is no explanation for this with the game. A quick search on BGG tells me that this is a game, presumably using the same system, published in ‘YAAH!’ magazine by Flying Pig Games. My feeling is that these would have been better used for markers in this game.

1 x player aid card and 1 turn record card which also includes a Random Even table.

Quality Factor (QF).

Each non artillery combat unit has a ‘Quality Factor’, higher numbers being better, and this is used for a number of things such as activation and deciding combat results and is basically a unit moral value.

This, and the use of Command Points (described later) are really at the heart of the game system.

Sequence of play examined in brief.

Initiative Phase.

This is decided by each player rolling 1D6, high roller gets initiative. On the first turn, ties are re-rolled, but on subsequent turns, in the event of a tie, initiative goes to the player who did not have it last turn. In addition, if a tie is rolled, then a check is made on the random events table.

Note, however, that first turn initiative is usually assigned to one side at the beginning of a scenario.

Should a tie result in a random event check, a table is consulted, and 1D6 rolled. On a 1-3 it will be a Confederate event, and on a 4-6, a Union event.

Artillery Bombardment Phase.

There are several steps here, including ‘Placement’, ‘Bombardment’ and ‘Counter Battery Fire’. Alternatively, artillery markers (including a counter for Union gunboats) may be held back for use latter in the turn. I found the artillery rules in general to be a bit unwieldy, and not helped by there being no markers to show status. At a later point in the turn a player has to remove artillery markers and then roll 1D6 to see if they will be eligible for later use. There are DRM’s to be applied, so a player need to remember what activity the artillery unit was used for;

  • ‘Add +1 if the unit is Confederate’
  • ‘Add +1 if unit fired at range of 0 or 1’
  • ‘Add +2 if the unit was removed due to counter battery fire’

Activation Phase.

Leaders, units and formations are activated by the spending of ‘Command points’ (CP). Each player received a base number of CP’s each turn, and rolls 1D6 to determine if any additional points are gained. This total may also by reduced by the loss of leaders or the cumulative loss of strength points.

The rules for spending command points and other factors which effect those things are quite extensive. Again, a few markers to remind players which units have been activated would have been useful.

Movement Phase.

This also included the rules that govern Zones of Control and stacking, which is 10 strength point of any combination of units, plus any number of leaders.

Combat Phase.

In this phase, a player may place artillery units that were not used earlier in the turn. Next in sequence is defensive fire and finally combat and any advances or retreats.

I should add that combat is obligatory where units are adjacent to enemy units. My feeling here is that given the time / ground scale and unit size, obligatory combat is inappropriate. Given that each hex is 1/3 mile, and much of the terrain is wooded, then I would imagine that there would be sufficient distance between units such that combat would be initiated voluntarily by one side or the other. I must stress, though, that that is just my personal take on it, and it may be perfectly acceptable to other gamers. No doubt the designer has his reasons for this, but again, maybe due to space limitations, there are no designer notes with the game.

Recovery Phase.

This included leader replacement and rallying shattered units.

Victory Phase

This is done at the end of the game to determine who pays for the beer.

 

There are a couple of additional rules to cover night turns and baggage trains, and an optional rule for ‘Brigadier Personality’ which uses the personality ratings shown on each combat counter. This serves to add a little more variety to the game.

I decided to jump in at the deep end try the ‘Historical Battle’ first, but, I soon bogged down mainly due to the issues noted above, especially the colour coding problem and lack of markers.

I think there is a good game in there somewhere, but, for me, the whole scale and relationship between ground scale and unit size just did not feel right at all. It tries to cover a big battle on too small a map, or to put it another way, its a small game tying to be a big game and failing.

I definitely had the impression that the game has been released without sufficient testing. Some very obvious flaws seem to have been ignored and which, to my mind, could have easily been rectified. Maybe the next game with revised rules will redress the shortcomings.


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