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25 July 2009

 Products The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary Anybody Know How to Work This Thing?

Anybody Know How to Work This Thing?

In the previous design diary entry, I described the history of the development of the regulatory layer of the board, but left a more detailed description of how it works to a later day. Well, that day is today. To make the discussion more interesting, I thought I would use a common starting situation in the game as a play example: Buford’s cavalry delaying a Confederate advance up the Chambersburg Pike. We won’t be getting into combat (Buford isn’t trying to stop the Confederates, just slow them down), but this example will let me introduce the map and how movement and fields of fire interact. (NOTE: I’m going to be showing blocks face-up here, but in the actual game players don’t get to see the faces of each other’s blocks except when the rules specifically require it.)

Now, in spite of the fact that the regulatory layer of the board superficially looks quite a bit like the those of Bonaparte at Marengo and Napoleon’s Triumph (polygons with little symbols on either side of the faces), it actually represents something quite different, and game play is not at all the same. If you know the Napoleonic games, try not to assume you know how things work here. You don’t.

Let’s start with the basics and just learn what the different regulatory elements are called:

Map Features

Chambersburg Pike 0

While there are quite a few labels, there is nothing too complicated here, so we should be able to get through the explanations without much risk of confusion. Let’s start with the most basic map elements: Areas, Positions, and Endpoints. Area is the name given to the polygons you see. Position is the name given to the faces of the polygons. Endpoint is the name given to the corners of the polygons. Areas are important because they regulate movement and because they are how fields of fire are defined. Positions are important because that’s where blocks go when they are on the map. Endpoints are important only in that they indicate where areas and positions meet each other, and for no other reason.

Having dealt with areas, positions, and endpoints, we can talk about the other things you see here. Ridges are indicated by cannon symbols. The number of cannons is important in attack resolution, but we won’t get into attacks today, so don’t worry about that for now. What you do care about is that ridges affect fields of fire. Ridges are good for your units’ fields of fire if your units are on the ridges, but bad for your blocks’ fields of fire if they are between your blocks and what your blocks are trying to see. A curved dotted line connecting a position and an area is a Special Line of Sight. These are essentially exceptions to the normal field of fire rules and indicate an area that is part of a position’s field of fire, although it would not be using just the normal field of fire rules. Steep Slopes are the little triangles. They penalize attacks up them, but that’s it. Since we won’t be talking about attacks, we won’t say any more about steep slopes today. Finally, Obstructions are the double lines. They make life difficult for attacks into them, but for our purposes their most important function is that they obstruct fields of fire: no fields of fire into them, out of them, or through them. Oh, yeah, they also slow down movement. A lot.

With that out of the way, let’s get Buford out on the map. (Or at least a brigade of Buford; Buford actually has two blocks in the game, but we’re only going to see one of them in this example.) Buford here is a little in front of Herr Ridge; technically on a spur called Belmont Ridge. The Confederates will be coming in from the top-left corner. But before we bring on the Confederates, let’s learn a little about the game just by examining Buford and the position he occupies.

Block Placement

Chambersburg Pike 1

Now, blocks occupy positions. Unlike my Napoleonic games, blocks never occupy areas: they move through areas, but they never end a move in an area. When a block occupies a position, the area on one side of its position is its Front Area, and the area on the other side of its position is its Rear Area. You indicate which is which by placing the block so that it physically is on the rear side of the position. (Although the block is on the rear side of the position, it is not in any sense occupying the rear area. Blocks don’t occupy areas. Blocks occupy positions.)

Introduction to Fields of Fire

Usually, a block’s field of fire is the same as its front area. However, a block with ridge symbols on the front side of its position (like Buford here) typically has an extended field of fire. To see how it is extended, take a look at the illustration below:

Chambersburg Pike 2

Because Buford is on a ridge, his field of fire includes not only his front area, but two other areas as well. These two areas are his Extended Front Areas. This is the first thing we’ve talked about that is at all complicated. An area is an extended front area for a block if: (1) it has a common polygon face with the block’s front area, and (2) it meets the block’s position at an endpoint.

As much as I would love to tell you that it is easy to see extended front areas, it isn’t. At least not without a little practice. Playtesters generally start to do it pretty easily once they’ve had a few turns of moving blocks around to different positions, but this example isn’t going to be long enough for you to do that, so I’m going to annotate the fields of fire for you. I will be using little ‘F’s for front areas and little ‘X’s for extended front areas. You can see this below:

Chambersburg Pike 3

The stage is now set. We’re all done with explanations of Buford’s position, so let’s bring on the Confederates.

Confederate Turn 1

Chambersburg Pike 4

Here comes Henry Heth. This is just part of Heth’s division actually. His division includes a second block (infantry blocks represent twice as many men as cavalry blocks) but we won’t be using Heth’s second block in this example. Now, the key thing here is the interaction between movement and fields of fire. The rules prevent Heth from just moving across Buford’s field of fire. The only way he can cross it is in an attack move on Buford, but before he can attack he has to spend this turn moving into position, which he does. (Incidentally, you might notice that Heth’s field of fire is marked with an F, but he is not on a ridge and has no extended front field of fire, so no ‘X’s for him.)

Union Turn 1

Before Heth gets the chance to attack, though, it will be the Union turn. Now Buford doesn’t really want to get into a fight here, he is just trying to slow Heth down, and to so for his turn, he’ll drop back to Herr Ridge, just behind his current position.

Chambersburg Pike 5

Before we go any farther, let’s figure out what Buford’s field of fire is like in his new position.

Chambersburg Pike 6

Now Buford is on a ridge again, so we should check for extended fields of fire here, but here the positions between the front and extended front areas are ridges, and ridges between the front and extended front areas prevent a block’s field of fire from extending from the front into extended front areas. (Obstructed terrain would have the same effect.)

Confederate Turn 2

Before we show the next Confederate turn, let’s de-clutter the map and remove the explanatory apparatus so you can see the situation more clearly. The field of fire of both blocks are marked with ‘F’s.

Chambersburg Pike 7

Now, the rule is that you can’t make an attack move against an enemy block unless either you are next to the enemy block’s field of fire or he is next to yours. Buford has pulled back, so Heth is no longer next to Buford’s field of fire area (marked with a blue ‘F’)‚ and Buford is no longer next to Heth’s field of fire area (marked with a red ‘F’). So no attack is possible here. However, with Buford’s withdrawal, Buford no longer has a field of fire preventing Heth from moving, so here Heth goes:

Chambersburg Pike 8

Now movement is pretty simple really. The only thing you really need to get is that although blocks do not occupy areas, they do move through areas. In the example above, Heth moves through two areas to get to his new position. (Heth does not have to sidle along the edges of the areas from position to adjacent position; that isn’t how movement works — he just cuts straight across the areas.) In general, a block can cross two areas in one turn, so this is as far as Heth could go, even if Buford’s field of fire wasn’t in the way, which it is.

Before doing the next turn, let’s take a look at Heth’s field of fire, just like we did for Buford after his last move:

Chambersburg Pike 9

Now, I’m not going to repeat all that explanatory text again, but Heth’s field of fire doesn’t extend into his extended front areas for the same reason that Buford’s didn’t: intervening ridge lines. As we did before, let’s show the position again with the clutter removed so that we can see it more clearly.

Chambersburg Pike 10

Union Turn 2

Buford is now in a position where if he doesn’t move, Heth can attack him. So, he’ll back off again, this time to McPherson’s Hill. (We’ll also shift the frame so that you can see better.)

Chambersburg Pike 11

And we’ll figure out where Buford’s field of fire is again. Here it is pretty easy to see and I won’t provide any explanation, just the usual annotations:

Chambersburg Pike 12


I could go on from here, but there wouldn’t be a lot of point. Within our very limited scenario of one Confederate infantry block against one Union cavalry block, not a lot is going to happen except that the Confederates will keep pushing forward and the Union will keep falling back.

In order for something more interesting to happen (like, say, an attack) that would reveal more about the game, both in terms of rules and strategy, we’re going to have to bring in more units or different kinds of units, or both. And we will. But I’m afraid that will have to wait for a later design diary entry…

Postscript (Added 30 July 2009)

I have noticed that some readers may have assumed rather more from the above little example than it was intended or able to show. When the game rules are published on the site, any misunderstandings will get sorted out then, so it isn’t that big a deal, but there is one point I’d like to address here: that is whether infantry could withdraw like the cavalry in the above example could. The answer is that it could not. A fuller explanation will be forthcoming as part of a larger discussion of some important design elements that have not yet been introduced. For now, just do your best to remember that patience is a virtue, curiosity killed the cat, to look before you leap, and any other clichés that you can think of that are vaguely appropriate to this situation…