Review – Birth of a Legend: Lee and the Seven Days from Against the Odds Magazine

Review – Birth of a Legend: Lee and the Seven Days from Against the Odds Magazine

Designer – Michael Rinella

Graphics – Mark Mahaffey

Cover painting – Keith Rocco

Thanks to Against the Odds Magazine for providing a copy of this game for review purposes

 

Being a war gamer at heart is a funny thing. With most games I want to have fun and a social experience and I love strong theme and story so I tend to lean towards Ameritrash and war games. Amongst the gamers I associate with, my love of war games is in a minority but I have to say that I find them to be the most satisfying. This is because I find war games to be more of an experience where I bring my many years of studying military history and i find it fascinating to play games about battles and campaigns of which I am familiar. Particularly games  set in the American Civil War and the 2nd World War.

So here we have a recent issue of Against the Odds Magazine, which is a very interesting publication on military history with a game in every issue. What more can I ask? Years ago, I used to subscribe to Strategy & Tactics magazine and I’ve played games published in the Wargamer, so this is all familiar ground for me. The magazine is of high quality with excellent articles, artwork, etc. and I highly recommend it to war gamers.

In issue number 32, we have Birth of a Legend: Lee and the Seven Days a 2-player game game which looks at the Seven Days Campaign conducted  by General Robert E. Lee with the Confederate Army against the Federal Army led by General George B. McClellan. Civil War buffs will know that this is the campaign where Robert E. Lee established himself as a force to be reckoned with.

Along with the magazine, including an article about the campaign written by Michael Rinella, you get a brilliant looking 22″x 34″map and 176 cardboard counters representing the armies and leaders. The artwork of the map and counters is first rate – colorful, clear information. My only issue with the map is that it was just a bit hard to tell where the boundary lines are between areas  (they are very light) and this is important as this is an area movement game. I did get used to it and its not a major issue. There is clearly a trade off being made to have the game map look more like a map and not have the areas segments take away from the look and feel. A reasonable trade off and as I said, its not a major issue.

Gameplay

The object of the game for the Union player is to capture the Confederate capitol Richmond or prevent the Confederate victory conditions which involve capturing key victory point locations, White House Landing, Harrison’s Landing and Malvern Hill.

The mechanics are similar to Rinella’s previous Civil War game, Not War But Murder, and are centered around Leader activation during the impulse phase. If you are familiar with the system it will take little effort to get into it. If not, the rules are reasonably clear but as with many war games, you will need to play through a few turns to get the feel of it and then all should be hunky dory.

What I really like about the system in particular is the emphasis on Leader activation. All the leaders are rated according to their capabilities and some are harder to activate (based on a die roll) than others. If the Army leaders are activated (more likely Lee than McClellan) they enhance your chances of activating their subordinate commanders which then frees you up to launch assaults. However, and this is where the decision making gets precarious for the Confederates, as you activate leaders there is a greater chance of the day coming to an end sooner and so you need to look at taking actions such as regrouping movement which doesn’t require Leader activation. And for the Confederates, time is of the essence as you need to get your troops moving to try and flank the Federals, forcing them to have to cover themselves and stretch their forces, which will be tougher as McClellan is less likely to activate.

Each turn is a day long. The game process is as follows:

Dawn phase – roll to see if the army comanders are active and the Inion player declares if they are relocating their Supply train

Daylight phase – Players alternate impulses, taking actions – assault, regroup, pass

Sunset – the Confederates may bring on the end of the day

Night phase – Replacements can be brought in and entrenchments built

End phase

It is all pretty straightforward and although different from the traditional hex-based system, works well to capture the ebb and flow as well as the challenges of command coordination, maneuver and bringing your forces together at the right place and time for maximum impact. The complexity level isn’t too heavy which makes this more game than simulation but there is enough there to give me what I want, an experience of Civil war era problems of warfare with all the names and places I have studied over the years.

And it looks great on the map which adds to the overall impact of the story.

Did it work for me?

Generally, I really felt that Birth of a Legend, gave me a good war gaming experience. The rules took a bit of getting used to but after working through a few turns, it came together well. This is typical in war games and comes with the territory. The mechanics add to a sense of the problems faced by the commanders on the ground. This is an operational level game and demonstrates Lee’s challenge of trying to flank the Federals to get at the supply areas while not leaving Richmond exposed and then the Federals have the problem of whether or not to push hard for Richmond early, or gradually fall back towards Harrison’s Landing once their supply train has been relocated, all with the problem of hoping to activate McClellan for useful assaults to keep Lee at arms length. Definitely recommended as a well designed, very interesting game.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 7.5 out of 10

Family friendly – nope this is for war gamers

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