Review – Bobby Lee 3rd Edition from Columbia Games
Design – Tom Dalgliesh
Map art – Eric Hotz
After their successful Kickstarter campaign, Columbia Games published a 3rd edition of Bobby Lee which covers the Eastern theatre of the American Civil War, in particular, the campaigns in Virginia.
From the Columbia Games website –
Bobby Lee brings to life the most dramatic military event in American history, the Civil War. The wargame covers the war in the east, focusing on the one hundred miles between the two rival capitals of Richmond and Washington.
For four years, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by the incomparable Robert E. Lee, defended these few bloody miles against overwhelming Union strength in men and material. This was the scene of most major battles of the war, including First and Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and the Valley, Peninsula, and Wilderness campaigns. You can restage all these campaigns, or experiment with your own war-winning strategies.
This is the 3rd edition of what many experienced block war gamers consider to be Columbia Games’ best game so I was very pleased to get my hands on it.Due to time limitations, I played some of the scenarios and my comments are based on these experiences.
Why a 3rd edition? Well, here is what the guys at Columbia Games had to say regarding their rationale…
Our main goal has been to reduce playtime for this game. Versions 1.0 and 2.0 were good, but an entire game 1861-65 could take 10-12 hours to finish. That was barely acceptable twenty years ago when Bobby Lee was first published. Not true today. So, we are working towards cutting that time in half.
How will we manage that? Essentially we are compacting time with quarterly turns instead of monthly turns, and we are reducing the number of units in play with a revised Order of Battle. These changes are producing a game that plays much faster, yet is still a great game experience.
• Battle Map
• Wood Blocks (96)
• Order of Battle Cards (2)
• Dice (4)
The game board map is lovely and in my view, even out does the Napoleon map.
And here is what the game looks like in play…
The Battle Board is nicely laid out…
The stickers and blocks are well presented and the entire presentation lives up to the high standards that we have come to expect from Columbia Games. Its all a visual feast.
As with other games from Columbia Games, there is a core game system that has been tried and tested. It is built for playability, abstracting the details and presenting the players with the key problems and areas of focus faced by the strategic commanders. The really interesting thing is how each game finds the core system modified just enough to reflect the historical situation. In this case, its a strategic level situation covering 1861-1865, with individual year scenarios.
SEQUENCE OF PLAY
The game is divided into four Years, 1861-64, but can extend into 1865 or later.
Each year is divided into four seasonal quarters, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.
Each scenario covers 1 year of campaigning beginning with the Spring quarter and ending with the Autumn quarter. The scenarios are great in terms of time and generally take roughly 90 minutes to play.
Each quarter, the player turns are as follows:
Players “bid” to determine who has the Initiative (first turn) in a Quarter. The players bid how many leaders they will activate and the higher bidding player must activate that amount. The lower bidding player doesn’t have to match the number of activated leaders to their bid.
This is a BIG DEAL as leader Activation is at the heart of your decision making as your forces can do nothing unless directed by an activated leader.
Each Player Turn starts by activating one or more Leaders. Each time a Commander is activated, they are reduced 1 step.
PASS TURN: Players can “Pass” a turn by activating no Leaders. They can Pass one turn, and still play a normal Player Turn later. Two consecutive Pass turns (one by each player) ends the current Quarter.
Units within Command Range of an active Leader can move. Leaders are then moved and
forced marches (if any) are resolved. All movement must be completed before
starting the Battle Phase.
Battles result when the Active player (“Attacker”) moves units into enemy occupied hexes. If either player has only one or two units to start the battle, a Skirmish is fought. Otherwise, the Defender deploys his units on a Battle Board into three (3) Positions and an optional Reserve, then the Attacker does the same. The battle is fought to a conclusion with a series of alternating Battle Turns, Attacker first.
Each Battle Turn has four segments:
• Retreat: • Morale • Combat • Reinforcements
Each day of battle is separated by a Night turn.
Battles are on a knife edge. If a player is able to move units into an unoccupied space of the enemy, it immediately causes a rout. Its very interesting that the players have to decide how long the keep up to fight and when to choose to retreat rather than be forced to retreat.
A Quarter ends when two consecutive “passes” are made. A Supply Turn is then played.
The Supply Turn is simultaneous.
Further rules cover such areas terrain, Union sea invasions, Supply, Towns, Fortresses, Strategic movement by rail and road, drafts, replacements, Leader change, forced marches, etc.
The rules are pretty clear, and the index helps when you want to refer to specific rules. One problem that I had was that some of the set up locations on the game map took a while to find. there should be a hex grid number system to facilitate setup.
I wouldn’t say that this is an entry point if you haven’t played other games in the Columbia Games catalogue as I would consider it more advanced than some of the simpler games. Otherwise, if you are familiar with other games by Columbia Games, you will have no problem playing Bobby Lee. The system is solid, it plays cleanly for the most part and it moves along nicely.
Did I enjoy Bobby Lee 3rd Edition?
This is the first edition of Bobby Lee that I have played so my experience is solely on this version as it stands. I have to say that really enjoy Bobby Lee for a number of reasons.
Firstly, after having had a long time interest in the American Civil War, I feel that Bobby Lee gave me a good sense of the strategic problems and challenges through the focus on Leader Activation. You really have to consider how many times you will activate the few leaders you have and what they will have units in their command do. You will only be able to have a limited number of units move and fight so every action you do take really counts.
Second, this isn’t so much a game about lots of battles. The reality is its a game of a number of skirmishes, delaying and holding actions. Then fighting withdrawals to live to fight another day. Then there may be one, maybe 2 large set piece battles per year as you will be looking for the optimum time and place to bring the enemy to battle as the risks of losing could mean that you spend the rest of the game on the back foot.This seems to reflect well the nature of what took place in the Civil War. Mind you, I’ve played 1861, 1862 and 1863 scenarios, but not the slugfest of 1864 and that might be a bit different…
Thirdly, you win by taking towns worth victory points, not by winning battles. Yet you have to weaken your enemy enough to get through to their towns. This is a heck of a thrilling and tense balance as you try an move your troops effectively. The Confederates have less units but packing a bit more punch whilst the Union has more numbers that need to be managed. This is such an interesting game situation and elegantly, with only 12 pages of rules, manages to provide a real feel for the war.
I must say that Bobby Lee is my favourite game so far from Columbia Games and really scratches the Civil War gaming itch in a very playable way that gives me a great historical feel without drowning me in tons of unplayable detail.
Awesome, thy name is Bobby Lee!
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