Review – Gettysburg by Treefrog Games

Here is a review that I wrote for the new issue of Thru-the-Portal ezine which can be found at – http://www.thru-the-portal.com/ttp/digital-magazine-ezin

Gettysburg, by Treefrog Games and designed by Martin Wallace

Let me state up front that I am a long time wargamer, having caught the bug when I was in high school in the USA in the late 60’s-early 70’s so I got to experience the first “golden age” of board wargaming which featured games published by the 2 giants, SPI and Avalon Hill along with other smaller companies such as GDW. So my wargaming back- ground is of the classic hex and counter variety.
This doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried more recent designs and systems which I have welcomed but it does mean that I have some experience and think I have a pretty good idea as to what I generally look for in a good wargame. Added to this is a life-long interest in the American Civil War and games from that conflict in particular.
I attended the UK Games Expo 2010 and amongst the new releases (at least in the UK) I was keen to try was Gettysburg, by Martin Wallace. The folks from Treefrog were very gracious and indulged me as I played the 1st day of the 3-day battle of Gettysburg. Having given it some consideration since UK Games Expo, I’ll share with you my initial impressions so far.
Components
Generally, the components are a curious cross between Euro bits and pieces and a reasonable area movement map of the battle. Adequate is the word that comes to mind here. The Euro style military meeples, command pieces, en- trenchment pieces and obligatory cubes are there. The life and soul of wargames for me are the military units as they should add a degree of flavour and information to give you a sense of who was there and how the units relate into a command structure.
In Gettysburg, they are souless. Yes there are infantry, artillery and cavalry units but no information and designa- tions making it all very generic and lifeless. Yes the elite units are in red, but so what? Unless you are a Civil War buff, you probably won’t know that you are manoeuvring the might of the Union Iron Brigade, coming to the aide of Devin and Gamble’s Cavalry troopers as they stave off an attack by Harry Heth’s Rebs who are trying to break through before the rest of the Union Army can arrive and consolidate on high ground on day 1. I want an immersive experience where I feel I am working with troops and leaders who I have read about.

The map itself is serviceable but fairly basic with areas for movement and defense indicators for the key defensible terrain.
Gameplay
As this was a learning game facilitated by Treefrog, we picked up the rules as they were explained and the movement and combat was relatively straightforward. The command rules worked well once we got used to them and I particularly liked the hidden commands which are the heart of the game structure, however, in reality, it wasn’t too difficult to figure out how many commands were available to my opponent. The care you must take to ensure you have commands available for later turns was interesting and worked pretty well.
From the Gettysburg page on BGG it says “With Gettysburg Wallace wanted to produce a balanced rather than a historically accurate game. The game e.g. ignores casualty levels, and Units do not correspond exactly to brigades or divisions – even if the forces’ proportion is close to historical accuracy.”
Well I think that wargamers will be put off by this to be honest. I certainly am. Wargamers want to deal with the history as it was faced by those who had to make the decisions.

Gettysburg is probably the most wargamed of any battle from the Civil War and it is pretty much balanced on day 1 as both sides have a chance to make a killer blow. But progressively, by day 3, the Union forces, if used defensively just need to use the terrain wisely and soak up the Confederate attacks. So the battle itself is unbalanced and the challenge for the Confederate player particularly is to flank the enemy early with strength to make the Union position untenable. Not easy but possible. As my photo shows, I played the Confederates into a pretty decent position by the end of day 1 but still hadn’t struck the killer blow.

Did it work for me?
My overall first impression? I have mixed feelings about Martin Wallace’s Gettysburg. On the plus side, I think the game played pretty well and more smoothly as I became familiar with the mechanics. It is pretty easy and works as a gateway game but there are much better games around on Gettysburg. So yes a decent game to play. However, it doesn’t work on the more important level of immersion into history. Meeples just don’t work at all and the lack of historical information is a deal breaker for me. I would rather break out one of my Avalon Hill Gettysburg games to introduce a newbie to the hobby.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 4 out of 10

Family friendly ?

Not really. It’s just not a family game.

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5 thoughts on “Review – Gettysburg by Treefrog Games”

    1. Well, depends on what you are looking for –

      Gettysburg: The Wheatfield from Victory Point Games is a very good tactical game on the action at the Wheatfield

      Terrible Swift Sword is a classic monster game treatment of the whole battle

      Gettysburg – 125th Anniversary edition compares very favorably against Wallace’s game

      The soon to be published Guns of Gettysburg looks good

      have a look here for a list of Gettysburg games on Boardgamegeek – http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeksearch.php?action=search&objecttype=boardgame&q=gettysburg&B1=Go

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  1. So you rated the game based on what you thought should have been the focus of the design, instead of how Wallace designed the game? Seems legit.

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    1. I guess you could say that for me anyway, as a long standing war gamer, there are certain things that I would consider essential elements that “feel” right in a war game. These are missing for me. I wouldn’t criticize Martin Wallace’s mechanics as they work at the level the game is pitched at. The decisions that he made to leave a fair amount of the historicity out the game on the other hand, was flawed. And I couldn’t recommend it for newbies as there is nothing to gain. it works mechanically but is too abstract for me.

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