Thursday, May 26, 2016

Black Powder - Glory, Hallelujah! review

Since the release of Black Powder by Warlord Games, I've been using it to play games set in the American Civil War without difficulty. Still, I was looking forward to the release of their American Civil War supplement book, "Glory, Hallelujah!". I was interested to see how they suggested handling some of the defining aspects of the war that aren't particularly reflected in the main rules. These aspects include the different role of cavalry, presence of river gunboats, susceptibility of brigade and even division commanders to falling casualty, and varying sizes of artillery batteries (some 4 guns, some 6) and infantry regiments (which could vary greatly in size). Also, having more scenarios never hurts, though I already have plenty of scenarios I haven't played yet from other sources.

Well, the book does provide special rules for the peculiar aspects of the American Civil War period, and ten scenarios. However, overall it's not very good. There are a few rules ideas I like and am looking forward to trying out, and the ten scenarios seem mostly good, but that's about it. The book is 180 pages, but doesn't feel like it has much useful content. I'm not one of those people that complains about these newfangled fancy color rulebooks or anything. I like high production values and eye candy, but most of this book just seemed like pointless filler. There are a ton of full page or half page pictures of miniatures, all 28mm from the Perry collection, and many of the pictures are very similar. There just aren't very many interesting ones, and once you've seen a few, you've pretty much seem them all. In fact, there are two double-page spread pictures in the book, and they're almost identical. I can't imagine why anyone thought they needed to include both of them. Some pages have two half-page pictures of the same setup taken from slightly different angles. Many small pictures aren't even game setups, just closeups of the front of very typical-looking units. They don't even use the opportunity to showcase any interesting uniforms. They're just padding the page count.

Since Warlord Games doesn't describe the contents of the book on the web site, I will give a more detailed breakdown of what is included. Pages I skip are usually all pictures or are completely pointless without any real content.

Pages 8 - 13: Brief factual account of the war, listing major battles and outcomes. Pretty basic and high-level, but I suppose necessary to include for those who haven't heard of the conflict and bought the book on impulse.

Pages 14 - 18: This section explains the organization of the armies. Things like how many companies in a regiment, number of regiments in a brigade, etc, and how it differed between regular army unit and state troops. It also includes a full page bio on Abraham Lincoln, and almost full page on Jefferson Davis.

Pages 22 - 29: Description of the uniforms and equipment of the armies. This includes about three pages describing various different uniforms sometimes worn by the volunteer regiments of each state. Some of these various uniforms never saw action, and most weren't worn after 1861, so I'm not sure how useful it that is.

Pages 36 - 45: Description of small arms and artillery used in the war. Sounds like a bigger section than it is, because it includes a full page quote and about 4 pages worth of pictures. That kind of typical of most sections, actually. Only about half the age count actually pertains to the topic at hand.

Pages 46 - 53: The author's opinions on how the armies fought, and why they fought the way they did. There are some... let's say "interesting" opinions in here. This section is pretty worthless, and potentially misleading, and the author probably should have stuck with facts. Includes over 3 pages worth of pictures.

Pages 54 - 65: Some specific changes to the Black Powder rules for playing American Civil War games. Rules for terrain (about 2 pages), units (about 4 pages), generals (about 2 pages) and a page of "useful" special rules units can be given (uppity, rebel yell, and seen the elephant). There are some good ideas in here that I'm looking forward to trying out, but I think there are more changes than there should have been to core rules. One of the rules is that units can't shoot if they make more than one move, which is more a house rule for Black Powder in general than anything having to do with the American Civil War, but I want to try it out and see what affect it has. There is a rule for passage of lines possibly going awry, which also falls into the same category.

Some of the other rules are needlessly complicated or poorly worded. In some cases the same rule effect is worded differently in different places, instead of being copied verbatim, which makes it seem like there is supposed to be some subtle difference. The terrain rules are about what you'd expect, but unlike the core rules will allow formed infantry to move in woods. The "useful" special rules I don't really care for, as I think they are either unnecessary or overly complicated for what they are. Overall I think I will use some of the rules and not use others.

Pages 67-72: Short bios and special rules for 4 Union generals and 7 Confederate generals. I'm not sure about the choice of generals to cover, since I don't think most people will be playing big enough games of Black Powder to field McClellan or Lee. The rules mostly just use the officer personality rules from the core Black Powder book, but there are a couple of unique rules for some of these personalities.

Pages 78-101: This section contains Union and Confederate army lists for east and west for each year of the war, making 20 lists in total (plus several pages of pictures, of course). The most useful thing here is the notes at the bottom about how common it would be to find certain artillery types or battery sizes or different kinds of weapons (like breach-loaders) for that list. Combined with the limits placed on the number of certain kinds of units allowed in the different lists, this gives a good idea of how to represent the chosen list well. I think this could have been accomplished without spelling out the stats for the basic units again and again for each list. Also, I'm not sure many people play Black Powder as a points-based pickup game, so I don't know how necessary the expansive army lists are.

Pages 102-112: Short descriptions and rules for some famous units, such as the Iron Brigade or Stonewall Brigade. There are some interesting surprises in there too, like naval landing parties and bushwhackers. Includes about three pages of pictures.

Pages 114-120: Rules for forts and boats (plus three pages worth of pictures). I don't have any forts or boats yet, but it's something to aspire to I suppose. I'm sure a lot of people do have them. I'm not sure how fun a storming the fort scenario would end up being, but having naval support could make for an interesting game.

Pages 124-173: The largest section contains 10 scenarios, some historical and some generic. They all include a map (with no dimensions specified), description of terrain and deployment, and list of forces. About four of them have a two-page description of how the game played out when the author played the scenario, which doesn't seem particularly useful. Especially since a couple of them were very one-sided and made the scenarios seem unbalanced. The author also admits to not ever playing one of the scenarios. Oddly, even for the historical scenarios, the names of the individual regiments aren't included, which seems like a strange omission. Some of the scenarios seem pretty good, so I look forward to trying them out, but it's hard to say how good they are without actually playing them. Most range in size from about three brigades per side to about 5 or 6, with some having up to 8 or more. So there should be something that works for most collections.

Pages 178-180: Summary of the special rules described on pages 54 - 65. This is the most useful three pages of the whole book. I will probably make up my own reference sheet though, which will only include the changes I intend on using and leave out the less useful or more needlessly complicated ones.

So, there's some good stuff in there, but not nearly 180 pages worth of actual content. I suppose it doesn't matter much, since Warlord Games would charge the same $32 for the book even if it was only 120 pages. In that sense, all that extra filler is thrown in for "free". I would probably still recommend the book for those interested in the American Civil War. If you are new to it and looking to get started, it will provide inspiration and a good starting point. Just don't get too misled by the authors editorializing.

If you've already been playing American Civil War games and know a lot about the period, a lot of what is in there won't do much for you. You've probably already got some rules changes that work. Still, there are some clever rules ideas that I think will work well and that I wouldn't have come up with on my own. Also, most of the scenarios seem pretty good. The descriptions of interesting uniforms and the famous units section might give you some ideas of some new things to get on the table. So even for veteran American Civil War gamers, I think there is some good stuff in there that makes the book worth a look.

2 comments:

  1. I found the same with the Zulu supplement. Frustratingly that had no reference of unit stats at the end - they are scattered all over the book and some units that fought in the war are not actually covered - at least as far as I could tell. I still brought it though - their specials make these things more attractive than they would otherwise be.

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  2. I wish the scenarios listed the table size needed.

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