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GLORY by RICHARD BERG from GMT
Two 22"x34" maps; one Rules Booklet, one Scenario Booklet, one Charts and Tables sheet, 400 counters.
Reviewed by MICHAEL LEMICK
One of the major trends over the last 10 or 15 years has been the ongoing effort by companies to publish introductory-level games, both to lure new people into the hobby and to provide increasingly time-pressed older gamers with designs that are easy to learn and quick to play. Many of the early efforts in this direction were pretty lame, but recently such games as Across 5 Aprils and We the People have proven that it's possible to design an innovative, interesting system without rules the size and readability of the Bangkok phone book.
The latest entry in this field is Glory, the first in GMT's projected Gameplayers' series yet another series of GMT series games. The game covers three of the major battles of the Civil War, 1st and 2nd Manassas and Chickamauga, in a single package, with the only connection being that they were all Confederate victories.
The first thing that you notice is the striking box cover by Rodger MacGowan. Orange and gray-green aren't colors one normally associates with the Civil War, but here they work. This is one game that will be noticed on hobby store shelves. Inside, the counters by MacGowan and maps by Rick Barber closely resemble those the two did for Three Days of Gettysburg last year, except that the maps are somewhat more subdued and the counters shinier, if that's possible. One unusual feature of the counters is that the infantry units are 5/8 inch square while the cavalry, artillery and markers are 1/2 inch. The package is rounded out with an eight page rule book, a scenario book of the same length, a chart and table sheet, a 10-sided die and, in a very nice touch, a copy of the counter sheets. Over-all it's very impressive. The only quibbles I have are that there's only one chart and table sheet (although, to be fair, the charts are also printed on the maps) and the terrain key is only on the Manassas map.
Like many recent games, Glory's system centers around the activation of "formations", here generally divisions or corps. The sequence of activation is handled by drawing chits (called Activation Markers, or AM's) from a cup. This system has, of course, been used in many of both Berg's and Eric Smith's recent designs. I've always thought that it was especially appropriate for an introductory game. Not only does it keep both players interested in what's going on, but it allows a novice to focus his attention on one small portion of his army at a time rather than having to deal with everything at once.
In the standard version of the activation system the players put 2 Am per formation, plus a few special AM's, into a cup. The players then draw these, one at a time, activating formations as they go, until there's on AM left. This one is not played. The turn then concludes with the movement of routed units towards their army's nearest entry hex.
In what has to be one of the hobby's more interesting firsts, though, there are no less than three, additional, alternative activation systems. In the so-called "Igo-Hugo" system each player uses a total of 2 AM's and activates his whole army when one is drawn. (All AM's are drawn from the cup in this case.) In the "historical Accuracy" version a limit is placed on the number of formations that can have their "second" AM placed in the cup. The wildest variant is the Overall Command Capability, or OCC. All AM's are again put in the cup just as in the base rules. However only the first "X" of a layer's markers drawn can be used to actually activate formations that turn, with "X" being equal to the number on an OCC marker that each player draws from his own, separate pool. Any of that player AM's drawn above that number are simply ignored. Since the numbers on the OCC markers vary widely and each player keeps his marker secret until the end of the turn there's no way to tell what will happen. If you've always felt that Civil War generals had almost no control over their forces during a battle this is the system for you.
Which is best? Well, they all have their strong points. Igo-Hugo is the simplest and fastest playing, the standard version is probably the most competitive, Historical Reality forces the players to make some very tough decisions about exactly which formation to activate twice, and OCC is truly chaotic. I'd recommend trying each of them at least once.
Whichever method is used, each formation's activation follows the same pattern. First any artillery which is part of the formation may fire. Then, all of the units in the formation except artillery that fired may move. This is followed by infantry fire, charge, and the attempted rally of disordered and routed units.
As befits the game's level of complexity, movement and combat are handled very simply. Units are rated for normal and extended movement, cohesion, and strength (with the larger units having separate fire and charge strengths). The larger MA is usable only if the unit starts and remains 3 or more hexes from the nearest enemy unit. This enables the game to show the difference between combat and road formations without requiring extensive rules. That particular situation is further simulated by not allowing units to make use of roads to move adjacent to an enemy unit.
Combat comes in two flavors: Fire and Charge. In fire combat the player rolls one die, to which he adds the firing unit's strength (each unit fires individually) plus a (small) number of other modifiers. The result is determined by the modified die roll. Charge is resolved in much the same way, only here the major dieroll modifiers are the strength rato between the two sides and the difference in cohesion ratings of the best units involved (units can combine strength only under certain conditions). Another difference between fire and charge is that fire affects only the defending unit and may have no effect at all, while either the attacker or defender will always lose a charge combat. The nice thing about the system is that the CRTs are so simple that players will quickly memorize them.
Combat is completely bloodless, which may seem odd for an ACW game. Almost all results are either disorders or possible disorders (via a cohesion check). Disordered units suffer a variety of penalties, from lowered cohesion to the loss of most of their ZOCs. A disordered unit disordered again is routed; a routed unit so affected is eliminated. What this means is that the only ways to kill a unit are to either attack it while it's routed or to surround it. Despite this it is still possible for a reckless player to lose a lot of units.
Combat also uses simplified versions of two mechanics Berg employed in 3DoG: Return fire and counterattacks. Each unit may fire once (only) per enemy activation at any unit which fires at it or is about the charge it (in the latter case artillery gets a +1 fire DRM to represent canister). Counterattacks are possible if the attacker in a charge rolls a sufficiently bad number. Of the two, return fire is by far the more useful adaptation. There hasn't been one counterattack in any of the games of Glory that I've played.
Most Civil War battle games these days include some sort of method of preventing players' bloodthirstiness from driving losses to unrealistic levels. In Glory this is handled via an optional rule for Commitment. Each AM has a commitment range printed on it. Any unit activated by that AM which wishes to enter an enemy ZOC or which starts the activation adjacent to an enemy unit and wants to charge must roll within the range in order to succeed. As an added fillip a formation's two AMs have different (sometimes very different) commitment ranges. The commitment rule adds both playing time and dierolling to the game, still, I highly recommend it.
So, how does it all work? For the most part, extremely well. Glory is filled with tension, excitement and, often, frustration. For an example of the "Frustration" part take my first game of Chickamauga. On three consecutive turns Forrest's division of cavalry was posed to surround, and quite possibly annihilate, McCook's brigade of the Union Reserve Corps. All three times the first Reserve Corps AM was drawn immediately before Forrest's first chit, allowing McCook to escape the trap. After the first time I started grumbling about court-martialing ole Nathan B. After the third I was planning something along the lines of the ending for "Braveheart". That's the way the game works, though: opportunities constantly arise and then vanish before they can be exploited. Even moves that are taken for granted in most games, like marching two divisions down the same road or shifting several formations a hex or two to cover a hole in the line, can be fraught with peril. Glory does reward planning; it's just more the general "here's what I want to do" type, combined with a willingness to seize the chances that fate (or the AM draw) throws a player's way.
The real surprise, though is how good a simulation Glory is. Part of this is because of the randomness of the AM system. However, even the details of the system have more Civil War "feel" and historical flavor than many far more complex games on the era. For example, take the artillery rules. In the game the only stacking allowed is to place one artillery unit with any other (including another artillery). When artillery is stacked with infantry the arrangement is called "piggy backing". Doing this has a number of advantages. The stack moves using the infantry movement allowance and terrain costs, which can be very handy in rough terrain. In addition, the artillery provides the infantry with extra firepower (especially for return fire), while the infantry protects the artillery from enemy fire (the infantry takes all effects of such fire) and charge (which automatically eliminates artillery alone in a hex). The stack also activates under the infantry's AM, regardless of the affiliation of the artillery. On the other hand, because of the way range attenuation works, only double-stacked artillery will have much effect at long range. Also, at both 2nd Manassas and Chickamauga the Confederates have an artillery AM which allows all of their artillery to activate except piggy-backed units. It is one of the more elegant depictions of the differences between parceling out the guns to infantry brigades versus keeping them under central control that I've ever seen.
The one place where the simulation breaks down, though, is in its treatment of cavalry, specifically Confederate cavalry. The problem here isn't so much the rules. They're about what you'd expect: cavalry can charge but not fire, and they can withdraw before fire from adjacent enemy units or charge by enemy infantry. Rather it's that the combat system strongly favors units with high cohesion, which includes much of the Confederate cavalry. The most extreme example of this situation occurs at Chickamauga. The Southern army in this battle includes no less than a dozen cavalry units. Half of them - Forrest's division - have a cohesion of "8", the highest possible in the game. (Wheeler's division isn't too shabby either, with five "7's" and a "6".) As a result it is possible for Forrest's men to frontally attack infantry units twice their size supported by artillery with an excellent chance of success. In addition, when in the woods that cover so much of the battlefield they're nearly invulnerable defensively. Worse yet, this exaggeration of the cavalry's capabilities affects the play of the game itself. It is, for example, possible for the Confederate player to win the second day scenario solely through the use of his cavalry. [Ed. This has been fixed in the errata.]
Unfortunately the game's other major weakness - the amount of time it takes to play - is not so easily fixed. Now, normally playing time wouldn't warrant more than a passing reference in a game review. However, this is a game and a series specifically designed to be quick playing - [Ed. Not so, ML; nowhere does it say that, neither on box nor in rules. Isn't it great to be designer AND editor!!] - and, for the most part, it simply isn't. Expect your first game of Glory to take from two the three times as long as the estimates given in the rules. Familiarity with the system will lower that, of course. Even so, only First Manassas is truly "finishable" in an evening. The main culprit in this seems to be the sheer number of AMs drawn each turn (in Chickamauga there are over 50!), plus the fact that two of the battles cover 2+ days of fighting. This being the case, one way to speed play somewhat would be to use one of the other activation systems, since all them lower the number of activations per turn.
One could get the impression that Chickamauga is the only battle in Glory worth playing. Actually all three of them are interesting, not least because none of them have been gamed to death. However, Chickamauga is the most challenging of the three battles and, despite the cavalry problem [Ed. now fixed] it is a very tense game which not only reflects the chaotic nature of the fighting in the woods but also provides great opportunities for taking advantage of player "errors".
First Manassas is the smallest and fastest playing battle. It's also a lot of fun, as both players get to attack and there's plenty of room to maneuver. After the first couple of turns the game often looks like a Union walkover, especially if Tyler's division is released early. However late arriving Confederate reinforcements and the low cohesion of many of the Union units will generally turn the tide.
Historically, Second Manassas was one of the most decisive Southern victories of the war, and the Confederate player has a definite advantage in the game as well. Still, the Federals have a few things going for them. First of all, the Union units have surprisingly good cohesion ratings. Secondly, most of the Northern army arrives before Longstreet's corps. And finally, few Union players will be as clueless as John Pope. With good play and a little luck these factors can be enough to pull off an upset. In fact, the one game of Second Manassas we played to completion ended in a decisive Union victory.
GMT has announced that, in addition to a definite sequel to Glory - Return to Glory - The Gameplayers series will soon spread to North Africa (Battle for North Africa), Napoleonic Europe (Victory) and even the ancient world (Colossus). All I can say is, I can't wait.
Graphic Presentation: Cover art is fantastic, rest is excellent.
Overall: A promising start to anew series, and a very good game.