In the course of writing my memorial post on the recent passing of Charles Roberts — the founder of modern “adventure” gaming — I was reminded of an unfinished game profile that I had, for a variety of reasons, allowed to languish in my documents folder for over a year. The passing from the scene of Charles S. Roberts, however, finally moved me to complete this long-neglected game review and it is presented here. - JCBIII
GETTYSBURG ’64 is a historical simulation of the critical battle between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863. This bloody three-day battle determined, more than any other single engagement between the Unionists and the Confederates that, however long the American Civil War might last, the South would not prevail. GETTYSBURG ’64 was designed by Charles Roberts and published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC). The game profiled here is the 3rd edition of the game, reissued in 1964 after substantial changes from the earlier 1958 and 1961 versions.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDGeneral Picket receives the order to charge from General Longstreet at Gettysburg
In 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 Yankees to abandon their attempt to forcibly compel the political reunification of the North and South. So, in spite of 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 in the summer of 1863.
On 1 July, near 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 strong army continued to arrive, the Union commander immediately deployed them on the ridges to the south overlooking the now Confederate-occupied town. As night fell on the first day, the stage was already being set for the battle to be renewed as soon as the sun rose on 2 July, 1863.
Col. Joshua Chamberlain and his 20th Maine, the lions of Little Round Top.
In the Confederate camp, General Lee had some reason for optimism as darkness settled over the battlefield. Although his army had been unable to rout the Yankees completely, it had succeeded in pushing the Unionists back. On the first day of the fighting at Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia had attempted, without success, to break the Union Right; when the battle resumed on the second day, Lee had decided that he would shift his attention to 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 ’64 presents only one game situation: an hour-by-hour simulation of the entire three day battle; there are no shorter scenarios, so players who sit down to reprise the battlefield roles of Generals Lee and Meade must be prepared to slug it out for as many as forty-nine game turns. In addition, the designer includes only one “optional rule”: a short but somewhat awkwardly framed set of instructions for incorporating Hidden Movement into the play of the game.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
It took Avalon Hill three years, but in 1961, the second version of GETTYSBURG finally made its appearance; and in a form that was noticeably different from its predecessor. While Roberts had opted to make a number of alterations to his earlier design, the most significant (and obvious) change was that, while GETTYSBURG ’58 had made use of a square-grid map board, GETTYSBURG ’61 presented players with a hexagonal-grid playing area. Despite the game’s several improvements, it proved to be a commercial failure; neither Roberts nor the gaming public, it turned out, could muster much enthusiasm for the second edition changes, and in 1964, Avalon Hill reverted to the earlier design format and reissued the game yet again, this time in the square-grid version presented here.
I purchased my own copy of GETTYSBURG ’64 in the late 1960’s and, after sitting though a couple of uninspiring play sessions, I put it aside in favor of BULGE ’65 and AFRIKA KORPS (1964) and did not look at the title again for almost twenty years. Interestingly, when I finally took up the game again, I discovered that, although the square-grid map design seemed antiquated and awkward, the combat system was actually more sophisticated and challenging than I had remembered. The combination of enfilade and down-hill attacks tended to make for very interesting tactical problems for both players, particularly where the defender was forced to create an angle by bending his line. To make a long story short: although I had barely played GETTYSBURG ’64 when I first purchased it, I ended up playing Robert’s Civil War game — both face-to-face and solitaire — more than twenty times on this second time around before I finally tired of it and moved on to other titles.
Nowadays, of course, players can select from an extensive library of different game titles which, employing varying scales and levels of complexity, all attempt to simulate the Battle of Gettysburg. Even Avalon Hill returned to this popular topic two more times: first, with the somewhat disappointing GETTYSBURG ’77; and then again with the simpler, and much more popular, GETTYSBURG ’88. Thus, given the fact that there are currently a large number of Gettysburg games to choose from, the obvious question is: Who would most likely be interested in owning GETTYSBURG ’64? The short answer is that this title will probably mainly appeal to collectors; moreover, I personally believe that it also has enough play value to suit both soft-core Civil War buffs and casual gamers. However, those players who are looking for a richly-textured, highly-detailed simulation of the battle should, in all honesty, probably give GETTYSBURG ’64 a pass. The game was cutting edge in its day, but that day was almost fifty years ago.
- Time Scale: 1 hour per game turn
- Map Scale: ¼ mile per 1” square
- Unit Size: battalion/brigade/division
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, and leader counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: below average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 3-6+ hours
- One 22” x 28” square-grid mounted Map Board
- 14 ½” cardboard Counters
- 13 ½” x ¾” cardboard Counters
- 15 ½” x ⅞” cardboard Counters
- 28 ½” x 1” cardboard Counters
- One 5½”x 8½” Battle Manual (with additional optional rules and examples of play incorporated)
- One 7½” x 10” Combat Results Table
- One 7” x 10” Union Units Starting Set-Up and Order of Appearance Chart
- One 7” x 10” Confederate Units Starting Set-Up and Order of Appearance Chart
- One 8” x 10” back-printed Game Turn Record Card
- One six-sided Die
- One 5½” x 6½” Customer Response Card
- One 11½” x 14½” x 2” flat Cardboard Game Box with two Storage Trays
See 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, 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.