Category Archives: Civil War

I try out In Magnificent Style, by Victory Point Games


I’ve had this game on the shelf since (I think) Fall-IN! 2014.  IN MAGNIFICENT STYLE is a solitaire boardgame of Pickett’s charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  As most gamers with a schoolboy’s notion of history may attest, the charge was Lee’s last big attempt on the Union Center after probing attacks on the North and South ends of the line failed to achieve victory on days one and two.

Now, this is a tactical situation where a long line of men (three divisions of three brigades each) are marching across a very open area, moving up gently rising terrain, stopped here and there by obstacles like fences.  The attacking forces are moving onto a position where the opposing forces are behind cover, with direct artillery support firing into the advancing line.  This may seem like a difficult situation to turn into a game, but many designers have given it a go with various results.  In Magnificent Style departs from a traditional hex and counter set up to present a sort of ‘push your luck race’ down semi-abstracted terrain, trying to win the race of “which will get used up first, the Union strength or the Confederate?

The game’s story unfolds from the view of Longstreet on the Confederate side.   The mapboard facing him is a truncated view of intervening distance between Seminary Woods (the Confederate Line) and Cemetary Ridge (the Union line).  Smallest units of maneuver are Brigades, which are represented as tiny lines of men on VPG’s now-standard thick-cut counters.  “Unit of Maneuver” is misleading somewhat– the battle space is divided into a long gridwork consisting of Divisional and Brigade lines of advance running up and down the map and a further gridwork of “3 x 3 areas” which are numbered 1-10.  The areas are numbered for random event purposes to see what befalls the units currently in that area when a chit is drawn.

The Mapboard, from the Confederate View

I’m using stands of 15mm ACW soldiers to make it look more authentic here.  It adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

A turn unfolds with the Union drawing events to implement on the Confederates.  These are a series of chits pulled from an opaque cup that usually provide beneficial events for the union.  It could be targeting a brigade, a division, or a geographic area on the map.  It could add an obstacle to a line of march, or cause other mayhem somewhere.  Usually, if it impacts the map, it impacts a zone in the map (1, 2, 3, etc up to 10) and if you don’t have troops occupying it, you skate that turn.    As you can see below, a Union barrage lands in Area 5, not hitting anyone this time.

The event, a barrage of some sort, lands safely in Area 5, making the ground blow up but not killing anyone. I love this mechanic, it adds a true feeling of battlefield chaos.

Confederates taking long range rifle fire at the Union, measured by Zone bands (green, pretty hopeless, yellow, kind of hopeless, red, your best shot).  Your leader may expend a once per turn bonus if he is marching with you in your stack.   Next, you move out, by rolling a pair of dice and cross indexing them.  The result will indicate what happens when you move– 1s are very bad, 6s pretty good.  If you take HEAVY FIRE, you don’t advance but you can try again, but now you are shaken and pull a blue event chip (more on this below, it’s involved).  If you take LIGHT FIRE, you take a loss (these are tracked with numeric strength markers directly behind the units.. as you can see in the illustration above, Kemper’s Brigade (far right) has already suffered a hit as he is strength 9). ADVANCE is


Each Brigade has a RALLY POINT, which is a round marker you set on your start point.  The rally point is kind of your insurance for making gains.  As you move up the battlefield, you can continue trying to advance, or consolidate (and not advance).  Certain battle results will throw your brigades back to their rally points so it behooves you to balance between constantly moving to the Union line at the end of the field, or making your advance “safer” (relatively speaking) by moving the rally point up so a retreating brigade doesn’t go all the way back to start.  Certain events will also trigger damage results that are measured as equating to the distance between the brigade and the rally point, so it is in the player’s interest to keep that number low.  I really, really like that “push your luck” element of these solitaire mechanics.  It’s lifted right from Sid Sackson’s venerable CAN’T STOP, and works very well as an indicator of Brigade morale.  I’ve played IMS a few times now, and it took a while to finesse the balance between making gains and consolidating gains.

The climax of most games. I admit it; I got lazy with the markers and just kept track in my head. The Union is down to like 1-2 SPs a piece for their brigades and the Rebs probably had 3 as their highest strength as they go in for bayonet combat. VERY BLOODY!

IF the Confederate brigades make it across the field at all, they end up ripped to shreds in front of the Union stone wall, where they have bonus shooting at Confederates. If they survive that, they engage in very bloody bayonet fighting. There are advanced rules, but I didn’t bother with them (yet).


I have to give this game some high marks. I like Luttman’s design work here. He takes an unwinnable situation, and by focusing in on a very NARROW slice of the action, he adds excitement, style and dash to a very fun little game. It certainly isn’t perfect (i think it drags a little in the middle), but it does deliver consistently on the fun (vice simulation) element. I like IN MAGNIFICENT STYLE. Do yourself a favor and make some simple 15-20mm scale 3D markers out of toy soldiers you won’t regret it.

Chancellorsville Battlefield Walk

I just thought I’d post my advance slides for the Chancellorsville battlefield walk here. I get tasked to do these on the job. These things are a lot of fun, both from a research and getting out of the office for an activity perspective.


ACW Ironclad Miniatures: the fixation and the frustration

When will enough really be enough??

I’m an indifferent miniatures painter. I can make miniatures look like what they are supposed to look like, more or less, but I’m not exactly skilled beyond a certain level.  I know how to paint and stain and do a wash and the right color schemes.  I do my homework and research the paint schemes and try to work with a steady hand.  But I’ll never win a contest, that’s for sure.  I don’t care, I paint for fun– my paint jobs are utilitarian and work as a “wargame standard.”  The greatest joy I derive from painting is getting the job done to a point where I can start using the finished product for games.

And so we get to one of my current naval miniatures fixations, the American Civil War in 1: 600, which I’ve been pursuing since last July.   I’ve made purchases from Bay Area Yards, Peter Pig, and Thoroughbred (there really isn’t anyone else) and so far I’ve created what I think is a decent small fleet for small naval battles.  I was of the opinion that I wouldn’t need to pick up much more than a dozen more, as I have most of the major ironclad and naval ship types represented, at least as individual hulls.  I like my little collection, which fits rather neatly in one box.


So far... my meager collection

The problem I have with my wargame fixations is that I am so easily charmed by the glamor of some other guy’s great project, and even ACW miniatures, which are so ideally suited for small unit projects (ACW battles were rarely over 20 ships max on both sides), could end up being a fixation where it’s possible to overdo it.

So when I visited the website of David Manley, naval wargaming enthusiast, rules author and naval wargame convention promoter, I was immediately struck by HIS latest fixation, which just happens to be… 1:600 scale ironclads. Check out HIS progress:

David Manley's Ironclads 1

Just look at that…


David Manley's Ironclads 2

Well, that’s putting my poor scrappy fleet to shame, isn’t it? I never rigged a ship model in my life, and his paint jobs are amazingly well done. The quantities! I stopped counting after 70. Seventy plus ship models.. my word. Only one thing to do now. I’m placing another order with Toby straightaway. My manhood is at stake.

Bottom two images from the Don’t Throw Bloody Spears at Me! website. Copyright by David Manley 2011

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Follow up to Hammerin’ Iron 2 Review I didn’t know any 1:1200 scaled manufacturers when I typed up the recent Hammerin’ Iron 2 review.  Now I do. NAVWAR Miniatures has a very nice 1:1200 ACW era ironclads line.  They are … Continue reading

Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules review

At the recent GUNS OF AUGUST convention in Williamsburg, VA, I was fortunate to experience a game of HAMMERIN’ IRON 2 demonstrated by the chaps at the Rules for the Common Man branch? subsidiary? of Peter Pig miniatures, namely Martin Goddard, Andy Barnett, Ralph and Sam Ashdown. The RFCM was demonstrating Hammerin’ Iron in rapid rotation all weekend long for whomever wanted to sit down and play, either a full up game or smaller demos. I have to commend Mr. Goddard for his patience, grace and good cheer as he managed to rapidly move his players through several back to back games of civil war naval mayhem.

Martin Goddard

Martin Goddard (center) explaining the finer points of hammering iron, and we don’t mean a blacksmith demonstration.

RFCM games tend to boil down and strip away mechanics until they arrive at what they consider the essence of the historical experience they are trying to portray with the game. AK-47 Republic, for example, is all about unit-building & army creation, patrolling, and surprise encounters with a range of exotic force types. Square Bashing is World War One trench warfare at it’s most abstract, in a design where the the grid terrain becomes the core mechanic of the game. So, too, have the RFCM team reduced the civil war naval gaming experience to a very narrow look at riverine combat.

“Narrow” is one of those words that is often misconstrued as a negative descriptor, as in lacking options or not possessing sufficient breadth.  In the instance of Hammerin’ Iron 2, ‘narrow’ is not meant as a negative, just to describe the fact that the rules are a treatment of a randomly created, generic, somewhat ahistorical instance of river combat during the American Civil War.  The game system can possibly recreate historical scenarios from the war, but I would not recommend it for reasons that I will touch upon later in this post.   With that said, for what it does, it does very well indeed and is a very entertaining game experience– just don’t expect  a very historical setup or outcome.

Hammerin’ Iron 2 is a game that recreates a generic clash between ships on an unnamed river sometime during the American Civil War.  The river should be represented by a cloth, preferably overlaid with a hex grid of about 3 inches in size if one is playing with 1:600 scale miniatures.

And another ship sunk
Hex size from Peter Pig’s specialized game mat, showing a sinking ship Wreck marker in it for scale.

Ships use hexes for movement and firing, and there are a few options that a perspective player might take for that.  One is the use of a blank (presumably blue) sheet of cloth, and to make a series of independent hexes of the same general size (the rulebook states a hexagon made from an inscribed 5″ circle, which seems roughly 3″ between vertices).  The ship is placed in the center of the hexagon, pointing 90 degrees perpendicular to a hexagon’s edge and the broadsides of the ship square on to the hex’s side points as it turns and/or fires.  This is a fairly elegant visual for determining line of sight, broadsides and a simple resolution for facing.  When the ship moves and turns, free hexes are placed on the side of the hexagon the ship is moving towards or turning into.  The rules refer to this system of placing hexes as the “Free Hex system”.  I find this charming and simple and I can’t believe I never thought of it.. it’s so straightforward and easy!

Free Hex Movment Example

Free Hex Movment Example: on the left, an ironclad in a free hex, aligned properly. On the right, an ironclad executing a turn (speed 3) and moving two hexes (pink) laid directly in the line of movement.

The rules tend to favor the hex cloth style of movement first and foremost and the Free Hex system is edited in where the movement systems diverge from each other (which isn’t often).    The three inch (ish) hexagons seem suited for the 1: 600 range of ACW naval miniatures that Peter Pig sells (Range 7 from their catalog).  Most of them are small enough to float in the center of a hex with no overlap– the only exceptions being (perhaps) truly mammoth boats like the Hartford, Blackhawk and New Ironsides.

Terrain is  quite important for Hammerin’ Iron 2, because the same terrain bits are used in this game, over and over again.  They are:

A 5′ x 3′ Sheet to represent a river— either printed with 3″ hexagons (as stated above, and for sale from Peter Pig, obviously)

Peter Pig's Official River Mat

Peter Pig's Official River Mat, marked with terrain on the sides to put "Land" on.

Failing that, you must use a blank sheet (blue) with the Free Hex System described above and reserve about a half-hex worth of space on either side with suitable terrain to depict the shoreline on both sides of the river.

A Fort– small, medium or large– is placed by the Defender. Like the game mat and ship models, the fort is available in a few variations from Peter Pig or their distributors.

Fort from Guns of August Demo

Fort from the Guns of August Demo

2 Islands— created by tracing the hex in a five hexagon pattern. There should be two, one flat (ideal for forts) and one slightly overgrown. The islands are placed semi-randomly during the setup portion of the game, but the defender has some influence over the process (so he can point his fort weapons strategically). You can see the flat island in the picture of the fort, above.

Land Objective (a series of scale buildings located in one of the shoreline hexes). These should be placed where they can be reached by naval bombardment, as they are a victory condition of the game. The attacker is tasked with reducing these.

The Onandaga takes on the Ablemarle
As the Onandago takes on the Ablemarle, the Ships on the right flank reduce the Transports Objective.

3 Sandbar hexes.  You will have three hexes that play the role of Sandbars in the game.. Sandbars can be placed by the Defender to channel the movement of the Attacker (say, towards the fort guns). In the picture below, An island (center, with fort) has three sandbar hexes placed next to it (right) to channel movement of the Union (attacking) fleet directly in front of the Fort Guns. Hexes must be placed contiguous to each other.. somehow.

Our first ironclad meeting a grisly fate after steaming over the Confderate mines.
Island, center. Sandbar, top right, 3 hexes worth.

The Shoreline Terrain to cover about half a hex worth on either side, all the it way up and down the river terrain mat (or sheet).

Note that these are part of the rules.. you can’t, for instance, add volcanoes or waterspouts or giant octopods– this game uses placement of the same terrain pieces to custom build a unique scenario every time.   The rules describe the process of setting up the generic river in some depth and are quite thorough on the subject.

Of course, there’s ship models.  Peter Pig has a nice range of ACW era naval ship models in their Hammerin’ Iron line (range 7), but one should not hesitate to add ships to the mix from other manufacturers or scales.  I have no idea what the hex size would be for 1:1200 scale, for instance, but I know there are some very nice miniatures lines in that scale.  Bay Area Yards and Thoroughbred Models make ships compatible with the Peter Pig resin models, so they should also be considered.  The prospective player should realize that there are very strict procedures for defining the point values for ships based on a complex formula that encompasses tonnage, gunnery type, and armor.  Each ship is assigned a hit point value not to exceed 50 points a ship and each side, attacker and defender, must start with a fleet no more or less than six ships– a restriction that enforces play balance and discourages designing one or two very tough ships that are almost impossible to sink (a phenomena the RFCM refer to as “The Yamato Syndrome”).  The point value of the ships in range 7 are available online in the files section of the RFCM Yahoo Group– which is pretty handy as it can save you a few steps. Fleet composition is further modified by removing a random ship from the defender side to compensate for the fort and also to determine what turn the the defender’s ships will enter the battle space.  It is possible for a battle to conclude without every ship committed to the battle to actually be present because they haven’t arrived yet.

Once you have defined a ship the pertinent information (especially the hit points) are recorded on the ship chart (available as a PDF download)  and ship hits and damage are recorded as the occur in combat.

Building a fleet
Building a six-ship fleet.  Ship Status Sheets under the ships.

Movement is a matter of moving 0,1,2,3 or 4 hexes, which is a factor of speed.  A ship can be rated fast or normal– most ships are rated normal, and the fastest (four hex speed) ships are blockade runners.   Players are given an allotment of little order cards that are placed face down next to their ships– order cards are either SMOKE (which are mostly movement oriented) or GUN PORTS (which are mostly firing orders).   When it is their ship’s turn the card is revealed and the ship moves and/or fires.

order cards
Order Cards deployed.

I think fire combat in HI2 is fairly straightforward.  Since every ship is always pointing towards a flat side of a hex, firing a broadside becomes very easy to figure out– a ship is either at an angle to be hit or not, and it’s very obvious.  The front and rear arcs are described by the width of the hex side you are facing.   The standard restrictions for line of sight etc. apply.  Since most combat takes place withing 3 hexes it’s pretty easy to figure out at a glance.  Resolution occurs via the big modified bucket of D6 method.

Onandaga executing a Gun Port card on the Shore objective
USS Onandaga (piloted by the author) executing a GUN PORT card Fire order on the Shore Objective, four warehouse buildings.

Ramming is also straightforward, and follows a series of steps which checks the angle of approach,  allows the targeted ship a change to fire a reaction broadside, then the ram goes home.  Resolution by giant bucket of six siders.

Damage reminded me a little bit of SILENT DEATH in that the player maintains a ship status chart and most importantly a record of damage “hit” points.  As the ship takes damage, the points are checked off.  When the player hits or passes a multiple of five (5, 10, 15, 20, etc.), he checks for critical hits on a standard “bad things happen” chart.  When the points go below a threshold the ship enters into the “Battered” state and a marker is placed on the sheet.  The ship’s performance becomes quite degraded in a battered state.  When the ship runs out of points, it sinks and a wreck marker is placed where the ship was.

Defender deploys mines
The Defender can deploy Mines, a form of Asset that is purchased during Scenario Build. Mines can be quite nasty.

Combat has some other nuances beyond moving and firing and ramming– there are Assets that are part of the scenario build part of the game. These are “extras” like submarines, army support, torpedo boats and mines. Asset combat — such as it is, is really handled like a random event on a chart. Still, they can be quite nasty when deployed. In the game I played, A submarine took out the CSS Arkansas (see below) and mines took out a union Ironclad.

submarines vs. Arkansas

A Union submarine asset (The USS Alligator?) takes out the CSS Arkansas

Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules have many elegant elements– victory conditions are perhaps the most noticeable of them. HI2 is a game recreating a very inequal historical contest. The Confederates were operating under severe disadvantages– they didn’t have an industrial base broad enough to create ships with the same level of technological advances as the Union. In a toe-to-toe fight, ship to ship, the Confederates will likely lose more often than not. Thus, the designers added in elements that balance the game in other ways so the Rebs have a chance at victory. In summary, I would certainly recommend Hammerin Iron 2 to both novice and experienced wargamers. It is very easy to follow and pick up. There will be some setup costs associated with the game outside of just buying ships– terrain, especially. I don’t consider them to be especially egregious. The mechanics will probably be criticized for being ‘too gamey’ by lovers of games like IRONCLADS by Yaquinto. The balancing elements– delayed arrival of ships, victory conditions, restrictions on six ships only in both fleets– these do seem artificial when you are reading about them before playing the game. In practice, I found HI2 to be very enjoyable to play and quite engrossing right up to the end. I was impressed enough to purchase the rules right then and there and plan on running this game myself in the future– it may become my “go to” game for conventions for ACW riverine scenarios. I will still run other ironclads rules when I want something more historical, but for a great game, with a lot of excitement and fun associated with it, I’m going to turn to Hammerin’ Iron 2. Strongly recommended for clarity, simplicity and entertainment.

Peter Pig Website’s HI2 Page
RFCM Yahoo Group (contains spreadsheets, PDFs for the game)
Thoroughbred Models (ships)
Bay Area Yards (ships)

Supplemental Post on 1:1200 scale ACW information


A book review of Paul Silverstone’s WARSHIPS OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR NAVIES.f Continue reading

Flags for Ironclads

As you might have picked up on, I’ve taken the jump with 1:600 scale Ironclad models.  I’m reasonably satisfied with the workmanlike paint jobs I gave them, but I’m working on some finishing detail like masts, some rigging and a flagstaff.  Flags proved to be pretty easy actually..  I simply found a vexology site, copied and resized the graphic, flipped it over and pasted several on a sheet.


Flags for Ironclads

I admit they are probably a tiny bit overlarge for this scale, but I wanted the flags to be instantly recognizable.

The masts are made from floral wire, and I drilled the holes with a pin vise. If you are interested in doing this for your fleet, here’s some flag files:

Have fun!

15mm Ironclad Models

All models and conversions the work of David Raybin.   Event was run at the recent NASHCON, I believe.  This is a scale that I have purchase models in, and I love naval gaming this big.  It just takes tons of table space and usually is relegated to conventions only.

ACW Naval Ship Registery online

American Civil War navy

I’m impressed with the ACW NAVAL SHIP REGISTERY on the CARLISLE CAVERN OF CARNAGE wordpress site. It appears to have every ship, ironclad, cottonclad, blockade runner and then some that fought in the American Civil War naval conflict, as well as some information (however sketchy) about how to paint the craft in question. Labors of Love like the Cavern of Carnage never fail to impress me. Job well done, whomever you are!

Give it a visit if you like the period, it should prove to be of interest to naval wargamers.

New Free Game

Battle of Honey Springs

From LPD Games

Lawrence Duffield (the one man in the one man band that is LPD Games) has offered up a rather nice looking free game on his webserver, LPD Games: The new company has yet to release any commercial products, but at least four of them will be available in July of this year: Gettysburg, Across the Wide Missouri, Grant’s Early Battles, and The Battle of Honey Springs (Deluxe Version).

The graphics and presentation of the material is top notch; I could follow the rules (from a quick glance online), rather easily. The graphics and use of color would rival any commercial product now being published, and has a certain “Clash of Arms” look to it. I find the finished games (available in July) to be a bit out of my personal price range at 56 dollars (prepurchase price), but the quality is certainly there to justify the sticker price.

Best of all, the regular (non-deluxe) version of Honey Springs is available for free download, here: The game is presented as a PDF download and will require some construction. A Cyberboard gamebox is also available for PBEM.

I love free downloadable wargames (duh), but one of this quality is a rare bird. I suggest you snap it up.