This was our second play of this game so now it was my turn to suffer the frustration of being the early war Union (had it really been over 6 months since the first!!?). Luckily, C3i 27 arrived from Hexasim the day before our game so we were able to clear up a few of the rule queries from our previous game due to the updated Player Aids and FAQs included with the magazine.
I built up the Union forces and concentrated on enforcing the blockade (badly!) until the April 1863 turn, when the Union gets 3 dice in Land Assaults (from 1 in 1861 and 2 in 1862). With the Confederates in a land battle rolling 2 dice basic plus 1 for every battery which survives the naval battle and also winning ties, going in as the Union before 1863 takes nerve, luck and a stack of good cards (which I had neglected to have the luck to draw). Added to this is that if there are any Confederate ships present in a river or sea port and the Union is attacking by water they have to be defeated before any land assault can take place.
The Union initiates attacks by expending a “cannon pawn” – basically action chits, but they only get 2 free per turn, so if they want to make the full total of 4 attacks per turn they have to have “built” 2 extra pawns in the previous turn – of course, this spending of resources stops them building the Ironclads, Steam Sloops and Gunboats to actually do the fighting.
My main push was from Cairo into Fort Henry & Donelson, though I did fight a few naval actions down the East Coast, but even when I succeeded and cleared the Confederate navy out my land assault failed. I thought I’d worked out how to take Fort Henry & Donelson by sending in a force to take out the enemy batteries and ships, then sending in a second force to try and take the space through land assault, but this failed through a masterly card-combo from the Confederates. Needless to say, re-rolling any dice or all dice twice with the Confederates winning ties saw me lose the battle.
The C3i play sheet insert has an errata which limits Johnston to 1 space per movement phase, but if he succeeds in getting put back into the Confederate hand (which he did), then he can pop up anywhere on the map next turn (which he did). We got in 8 turns in 4 hours, so with 12 turns in the full game (perhaps 13 depending on a card play), we’re looking at 6 hours to finish if the game goes the full distance. I had to failed to emulate the Union capture of even 1 Confederate port in the last game (Key West), but now we have played 2 games we think that we can use the recommended 1862 scenario and we would probably get it finished. The later start to the game which places more Union forces in the Gulf of Mexico and thus gives them a better starting position might address our queries over game balance. That said, it’s a sign of how good this game is that even while getting stuffed I really enjoyed the game. Recommended.