HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDIn the spring of 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, seemed invincible; it had recently won a crushing victory at Chancellorsville, and Lee began to think that one more decisive Confederate victory, particularly if it could be attained on Northern soil, might be enough to induce the North to abandon its attempt to forcibly compel the political reunification of the North and South. So, despite the bitter memories of the Antietam campaign of the previous year, Lee marched into Pennsylvania at the head of an army of 77,000 men. On 1 July, at a small rural town called Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia, quite by accident, blundered into the advanced elements of General George Gordon Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac. In a steadily escalating battle, the Confederate forces of General Ambrose Hill’s corps succeeded, by the end of the day, in driving the Union defenders out of their advanced positions and back into Gettysburg in some disorder. During the night, the Union troops abandoned the town. But Union reinforcements were on the way, and, as additional troops from Meade’s 88,000 man Army of the Potomac continued to arrive, the Union commander immediately deployed them on the ridges to the south overlooking the now Confederate-occupied town. On the morning of the second day, Lee fixed his attention on a small brush and scrub covered hill on the Union Left, known locally as Little Round Top. Although the hill was only 650 feet high, if the Confederates could emplace artillery on its heights, they could enfilade the entire length of the Union line defending Cemetery Ridge below. The Confederate commander knew that if his men captured Little Round Top, Meade’s forces would have no choice but to retire in defeat. Lee was supremely confident in his men as they began their preparations for battle, and he was just as confident that by sundown on 2 July, 1863, Gettysburg would be the site of another decisive Confederate victory — perhaps the crucial triumph necessary to bring the War for Southern Independence to a successful end.
GETTYSBURG ’77 is a brigade/division simulation of the climactic three-day Civil War battle that indirectly decided the ultimate outcome of the War Between the States. At an obscure town in Pennsylvania, General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia faced the untested, newly-appointed General Meade and the recently-defeated Army of the Potomac. These armies had met before on the field of battle, and the outcome had almost always been a Confederate victory. The Battle of Gettysburg would be the most important test for both armies in the entire war. In addition, both generals were saddled with the fearful knowledge that either one of them could, depending on the verdict of the battlefield, lose the war in a single day.
GETTYSBURG ’77 is actually three games in one: the Introductory Game, the Intermediate Game, and the Advanced Game. As players master one set of rules, they can logically, and with a minimum of confusion or difficulty move to the next, more complicated game system.
The Introductory Game is intended to introduce the beginner to the basic elements of conflict simulations. While the Introductory Game uses the same map board as the other versions, the piece count is limited (only army headquarters and division instead of brigade counters are used), the game system relies on a simple, symmetrical move-fight turn sequence, and the game rules are so simple that they require only two pages of text.
The Intermediate Game adds complexity by increasing the numbers and types of units, as well as by adding step-losses, morale, ranged artillery fire, simple command and control, prepared positions, and (shock) assaults in addition to fire combat. Since multiple types of combat are introduced, these new forms of combat bring into play different CRTs. In addition, the game turns each represent one hour of real time, rather than the two hour turns of the Introductory Game. Player actions during each game turn are again symmetrical and follow a four-step sequence of phases: the Disorganization and Breastwork Placement phase; the Movement phase; the Combat phase; and the Reorganization phase. After both players have completed these operations, the game turn ends, and the turn marker is advanced one space. In addition, the Intermediate Game introduces a limited set of three optional rules for players to try. These special rules cover game elements such as: the introduction of Optional Units; rules for Increased Artillery Range of Influence; and rules for the Modification of Headquarters. For many if not most players, the Intermediate Game provides all of the complexity and simulation detail that they could ever want. Some, however, will inevitably move on to the third and final version of the game.
The Advanced Game of GETTYSBURG ’77 represents a quantum leap from its simpler predecessors mainly because its expanded rules introduce a large number of sophisticated new game concepts. For those players already familiar with SPIs TERRIBLE SWIFT SWORD or with the big, grand tactical Napoleonic games, many of the features introduced in the Advanced Game will seem neither unexpected nor particularly complicated. For players not used to these other highly-detailed game systems, however, it will require a little study before they can plunge into the play of the Advanced Game. One advantage of this design, by the way, over similarly detailed but much larger “monster” games, is that GETTYSBURG ’77 does not require a 4’ by 8’ playing surface. Like the Introductory and Intermediate Games, the Advanced Game makes use of a symmetrical, if much longer, sequence of player operations. These different steps in each player turn proceed as follows: the Movement Phase, which is further divided into the Command Determination Segment, the Primary Movement Segment, the Brigade Movement Segment, and the Command Movement Segment; the Artillery Fire Phase; the Combat Fire Phase; and the Assault Phase. After both players have completed these operations, the game turn ends, and the turn marker is advanced one space. In addition to these changes in the player turn, this version of the game includes rules covering, among other things: unit formations, unit facing, variations in elevation, sophisticated command and control, flanking fire, defender’s return fire, defender’s assault, and commanders’ losses. Like many other simulations that offer this degree of operational detail, the Advanced Game also includes a certain amount of record keeping. Fortunately, several “masters” are provided so that players can photocopy the various “unit status sheets,” as needed. There are also three pages of optional rules, which in the interest of brevity, I will not enumerate here. Clearly, the Advanced Game is not intended for the beginner or the casual player. However, for someone who wants a highly detailed, grand tactical treatment of a crucial Civil War battle, but who doesn’t have a large playing area, GETTYSBURG ’77 may just be the perfect choice.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
If I were Mick Uhl, I would have wanted to have the graphic designer, Jim Hamilton, shot as soon as I saw the finished game counters. The box art is fine, the charts, tracks and tables are about what you would expect, and the map is simply gorgeous. Unfortunately, someone — I have to assume that it was the graphic artist — decided that, except for the Introductory Game which uses traditional military symbols, the Intermediate and Advanced games should have unit counters with the colored silhouettes of the various units’ parent State, instead of infantry symbols. If that weren’t bad enough, much of the print on the counters is so small that GETTYSBURG ’77 is probably one of the few games that should have been packaged along with a magnifying glass. Moreover, the same genius who liked the teeny-tiny print and non-traditional military symbols, also decided that the typical, easily distinguishable blue and gray of Civil War game counters was too conventional; so, in the case of GETTYSBURG ’77, he opted to print the two armies’ counters in very light shades of blue and gray. Brilliant! In my opinion, thanks to poor production decisions, a game that could have been a near-classic has instead been turned into an interesting failure. Where was Redmond Simonsen when the designer really needed him?
So far as the actual game design is concerned, I personally think that Mick Uhl did a really excellent job of simulating Civil War combat on the grand tactical level, both in the Intermediate, and most especially in the Advanced Game. While I never had the opportunity to play my own copy, several people whose opinions I trust, were extremely impressed with the detail and intuitive logic of the overall game system. It was on their recommendations that I bought the game, in the first place! Clearly, there was a lot of historical work done in the preparation and design of this game, and it shows. The carefully stepped rules progression from the Introductory to the Advanced game also makes it very easy for a beginner to easily progress in mastering the game system.
- Time Scale: 2 hours per game turn (Introductory Game); 1 hour per game turn (Intermediate and Advanced Games)
- Map Scale: 756 feet per hex
- Unit Size: brigade/division/battery (Introductory Game); brigade/battery (Intermediate and Advanced Games)
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, and army headquarters (Introductory Game); infantry, cavalry, foot artillery, horse artillery, leaders/headquarters, and information counters (Intermediate and Advanced Game)
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: below average-above average (depending on which of three game versions being played)
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 2½-10 + hours (depending on game version being played)
- One (two section) 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Board
- 1,040 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Advanced Game Status Sheets and Historical Orders of Battle incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Introductory Game Turn Record/Reinforcement Chart and Combat Results Table; Advanced Game Experience, Strength, and Disorganization Point Determination Tables
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Intermediate Union Order of Appearance and Turn Record Track; Advanced Game Union Order of Appearance and Turn Record Track
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Intermediate Confederate Order of Appearance and Turn Record Track; Advanced Confederate Order of Appearance and Turn Record Track
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Advanced Artillery Fire, Combat Fire, Assault, Movement, and Activity Tables
- One 8½” x 11” book-style reprint of consolidated GETTYSBURG ’77 Errata from the General
- One six-sided Die
- One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Catalogue
- One 8½” x 11” All-Star Replay Ad Slick
- One 5½” x 6½” Customer Response Card
- One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¼” flat Cardboard Game Box
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Review of this title which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU .
Also see my blog post Book Review of this definitive three volume work on the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia by Douglas S. Freeman.
Also, for those interested in battlefield maps, the "museum book" collection of historical Civil War maps by William J. Miller, released in 2004, or the atlas compiled by Stephen Hyslop in 2009 of Civil war battlefields are worth collecting.
Recommended ArtworkThis Giclee print of a map of the Battle of Gettysburg is suitable for framing and makes a nice wall decoration for a game room with a Civil War theme.