An almost forgotten excellent Civil War smaller campaign
Game: Yankee thunder, Rebel lightning
Publisher: Game Journal (2000)
Designer: Masayoshi Imura
Map (2 pieces) 13” x 20”
1 play-aid chart
This is an issue game of old Game Journal #59.
The game covers the whole Civil War. But, standard scenario starts summer 1862 and ends winter 1864. The optional scenario can cover the very start of the campaign from summer 1861.
Though this game uses event cards, this is not a card-driven type game.
Basically, this is a chit-pull activation game.
But, the atmosphere is very different from “Victory lost” also from Game Journal soon after this game. The reason is that player can activate the formation formed with several stacks in “Victory Lost”, on the other hand in this game player can basically activate one stack in the designated theatre of war.
Each player has a set of activation chits mainly designate the theatre, such as East, West, Mississippi, trans-Mississippi. With these chits, player can activate one stack locating that theatre.
Due to the size of game, usually a player can have only few stacks in each theatre. So, choosing these chits means which stack he would like to activate this turn.
Based on the fact that the North has more chits, the North player has more freedom for planning. But, as everybody knows, the North has poorer commanders at start. So, even with more chits, it is very difficult for the North to have initiative in the first half of the game.
In addition to the theatre chits, each player has Grant chit or Lee chit. These chits can activate the stacks of the designated leader and possibly the stacks which stacked with that leader during the leader movement. So, these chits enable the players to activate more than one stack at once.
Also, there are Lincoln chit and Davis chit. These president chits are not used to activate the units. Instead, these can be used for leader problem. The first way to use these is to fire one leader on the map and then draw one leader from the reserve. This is especially important for the North who has more number of poor-skilled leaders. The second way is to relocate 3 leaders on the map.
Unusually in this game, there are “rail move” chits. In this game, only with this chit can players to use rail movement.
Only the North player has “Naval” chit. With this chit, the player can do one of the following. Attack coastal fort with ocean fleets. Move riverine fleets.
Though the Civil war is fought within the same continent, the naval aspect of the war was really important. But, this fact is usually not appropriately included in the campaign game. Though this is smaller game, the designer had adopted the naval actions with this special chit.
Recently with the game “Rebel raiders on high seas”, we can understand how the naval actions were important in this campaign. But, in that game the land combat system is somewhat awkward. In my private opinion, the balance between the land combat and naval combat in this game is better than that of “Rebel raiders …”
As described above, actually operational decision is done while choosing the chits for the turn. After drawing the chit, there would be very limited range of decision and usually could be conducted almost automatically. This means that most of thinking time is consumed during chit selection.
This tendency is enhanced by the fact that there are very few actions that can be done by activation chit. In other games, recovery from disruption, emergency replacement can be conducted as an action. But, in this game there’s neither disrupted status nor no emergency replacement. Even railroad movement could not be conducted as a regular action. So the only option is just move and attack usually.
Let’s look at several important topics of the campaign.
Leader problem in the North
This is one of the typical important topics of the Civil war. It was very hard for Lincoln to find out the leader who can stand against Bobby’s invasion to the North.
In this game, the leaders have two ratings. The first is combat rating used to determine initiative in each combat. The other is movement rating used to move for the units stacked with.
Usually, the initial leaders in the North have very low ratings, but they have higher rank. This means that even with talented young leader, you must use these low-rated veterans. It is very important for the North to put Lincoln chit into play and fire the most cumbersome leaders from the play. In the first stage, the player must fulfill the positon even with leaders with low movement but with medium combat rating. Since they can defend at least. But, in the latter half of the game, they must be replaced with ones with higher movement rating, because the North must conquer the South until the end of the game.
Firing is controlled by Lincoln chit. But, promotion is hard to be controlled, since it is usually done by promotion check after the combat. So, the best thing you can do is that to conduct attacks with promising leaders.
But, to make attacks, you must put appropriate activation chits into the cup. But, in most case, there would be not enough space for putting both Lincoln chits and activation chits.
As you know, both capitals are really close to each other. Due to the leadership advantage at start, Washington is in danger in most games of this topic. This is really true in this game. Lee is really better than McClellan and the South player has special Lee chit for its activation. The only thing the North player can do is build up strength points as many as he can in Washington. And build up fort in the hex, then conduct Lincoln chit and try to pull the better leader. Though Lee is really excellent, the problem of the South is lack of human resource. So, if the Washington campaign once become a war of attrition, it is very hard for the South to finish the campaign. But, this can reduce the human resource of the North in Mississippi theatre. In that theatre, there are many VP cities of the South. So, even without the capture of Washington, it is necessary for the South to invade the North in Eastern theatre.
I think the balance of Washington problem in this game looks very satisfying.
Western theatre problem
This topic was underestimated in games of this topic in 90’s.
This is a problem that it is very difficult for the North to conquer the South until the end of the game in classic games.
Even with improved leaders, it is difficult for the North to conquer the whole South until 1865. The real enemy is not a powerful rebel army. They are the depth of the South, guerilla warfare of the remaining South army. This is especially true in “the House divided” in which the South can utilize the special ability of the cavalry. It looks also true in “For the People” in which the South can use the same amount of the cards until the end of the game.
On the other hand, in this game the number of activation chits the South can put is gradually reduced by the increase of VPs of the North. This reflects the fact that the economy of the South is being crashed and moral of the rebel is going down dramatically. This rule eliminates the endless cat and mice game in smart manner.
So, the South player would not like to take guerilla warfare in this game. He must invade to try to take Washington or reduce the Grant’s pressure on the Mississippi to make enough time to end the game before the final collapse. I think this looks very reasonable strategic options as the South really faced in 1862 and 1863.
Naval warfare problem
In classic games of this topic, there was a tendency that naval actions were ignored or handled in very abstractly. I can understand these designs, since longer rules should be avoided in early days of wargames.
But, there are reasons that naval actions were important.
The first is that collapse of economy of the South was conducted with Anaconda plan in high seas.
The second is that important campaign of Mississippi was not taken a point without riverine battles. And again Mississippi campaign is important to collapse of economy of the South.
This game with special North naval chit can bring these topics included without detailed long rule.
This game is already old now in 2014. But, this is still innovative in several aspects as described above.
It is not easy to get this game even in Japan. But, it is worth for searching.
Though I really like “Price of Freedom”, this game is better than that in several aspects, especially in the balance of Eastern theatre and Mississippi theatre, and in the balance of land and naval campaign.
To conclude this review, I’d like to add the playing time information. In my first play, it took about 30 minutes to finish one turn. And standard scenario has 8 turns in total. Even with optional extended scenario, it is playable in one day truly.