By Robert DeMaio
August 9, 1862 on a 100 degree day in Virginia Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates stumbled onto a single division of Union troops lead by Nathaniel Banks. The Confederates tried to position themselves along a wooded front across a shallow open valley. Banks decided to leave his defensive position and ordered his forces to advance across the valley hoping to catch the Confederates off guard. He succeeded in his plan, although general Jackson was absent from the field. Both the Confederate and Union forces were then reinforced transforming their initial contact into the hard fought battle of Cedar Mountain.
Stonewall’s Sword: The Battle of Cedar Mountain will be released by Revolution Games in March.
I first tested Stonewall’s Sword in its infancy a while ago. As we played, Hermann spent most of the time jotting down notes, while I focused on playing the game. In the months that followed, I involved myself in other games, while Hermann continued to work feverishly on it. This past month Hermann asked me to playtest it again before its publication. I was happy to oblige. This time his notes continued on a much smaller scale as he was intent on making sure any possible rule questions would be answered. Little did I know that Hermann’s changes transformed Stonewall’s Sword from a good game into a heart pounding one.
Its chit pull system drives your troops, or slows down your opponent’s who, on the other hand, may have chits of his own to impede your activity. This uncertainty adds a Fog of War element that is the hallmark of Hermann’s designs.
I actually tested this game twice recently. The first time I played the Confederates in a campaign game with a very aggressive opponent. The Union pushed quickly along the road toward the open valley while my Confederates couldn’t find their way out of the woods due to my opponent’s chit pulls that hindered my movement. Everything about the Union’s play flourished, while everything about the Confederates did not, at least during the first three turns.
The Union troops were able to make their way to the victory hexes on the Confederate board edge and the victory hexes along the route. It was very tough for the either side to maneuver in the woods or launch an attack and the Union player just racked up points each turn while he awaited my arrival. Plus, my reinforcements were delayed getting on the board and/or being road blocked by my own units.
There are two scenarios. In the longer scenario, which this was, both general Ricketts, with four brigades, and Stonewall Jackson the Confederate Commander only arrive after a few successful die rolls. Needless to say my die rolls to bring Jackson on the field failed terribly. But even if he does arrive you have to hope he isn’t too late to save the day, although that wasn’t to be so in my case. The Union just added up the victory points and gained so many his totals were off the chart. In addition, the battle tended to play on one half of the map. This turned out to be an important play-test and resulted in a revamping of the game. (By the way, the dice I used are now in the town incinerator.)
Hermann then massaged the victory hex conditions and I asked him for a second chance at the Confederates. Accumulating victory hex points still exist but were lowered in value to bring more balance and prevent point totals running off the chart. Other changes made the cornfield bluff hex worth 5 victory points for the Confederates and the movement point penalty for crossing dried stream beds was removed, which helped the Confederate’s in their counter-attacks.
We tested the shorter scenario this time, where die rolling for Ricketts and Jackson aren’t necessary. I was up against the same eager Union opponent. He did the usual aggressive movement and sent the Union forces through the valley grabbing two victory hexes, but this time he was meet by strong Confederate resistance in the woods along my left flank.
Possession of the victory hexes in the valley then went back and forth a couple of times. As the Union player was ahead, he began withdrawing so as not to take more loses. It was now my time to be aggressive, inflict Union casualties and go for my victory point hexes.
So I sent Early’s Brigade to the edge of the cornfield and attacked the Union forces there. As two Confederate Brigades, Branch and Archer, had entered the map, I shifted them out into the open field behind Early on my right flank for support. Thomas’ Brigade trailed behind them. By the time they reached his area, Early had exchanged casualties and had to give ground to regroup. A slugfest ensued between the Confederate’s Archer and Branch vs the Union’s Greene and Prince for control of the cornfield and its bluff during the remaining two game turns, with both sides exchanging casualties.
I managed to take the bluff Victory Point hex during the final turn. But the Union player had one last chit to pull, and don’t you think he was able to make an attempt to knock me off the bluff! Well he did. The game came to a close with a score of Union 35, Confederates 34. The points were so close we counted them twice. After typing this up I’m eager to play once again.
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