Jackson’s Valley Campaign
Available from Columbia Games
Designed by Grant Danglesh
The Shenandoah Valley was one of the most strategic geographical features in Virginia during the American Civil War. The Valley offered a number of strategic advantages to the South, two of which are;
A Northern army invading Virginia could be subjected to Confederate flanking attacks pouring through the many wind gaps across the Blue Ridge.
The Valley offered a protected avenue that allowed Confederate armies to head north into Pennsylvania. To the North, the orientation of the Valley offered little advantage to their army headed toward Richmond. However, denying the Valley to the Confederacy would be a significant blow because It was an agriculturally rich area that was also rich in livestock. These supplies were used to provision Virginia’s armies and the Confederate capital of Richmond. If the North could reach the upper Valley, they would threaten the vital Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which ran from Richmond to the Mississippi River carrying supplies. Stonewall Jackson wrote to a staff member that “If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost”. This is the basic background to Columbia Games new block release game Shenandoah.
Shenandoah is a block based game which is the typical style of game that has been designed by Columbia Games. Block games, for those that don’t know, typically (I didn’t say all the time) play faster than their counter driven counterpart games. Shenandoah is one of the faster playing games. Now, don’t get the idea that because it plays fast that it is not without complexity. However, what is refreshing is that the complexity comes into play with the strategy that players will employ, not in mastering the game mechanics.
The scale of Shenandoah is Operational level with units representing Brigades, or Battalions. An Infantry Brigade can represent any number of men from 600 to 2400. A Cavalry Battalion represents between 200 and 600 men, while an Artillery Brigade represents 2 to 4 Batteries. The valley where the main battles were covers a stretch of land from The Blue Ridge Mountains in the East, to the Ridge and Valley Appalachians in the West, to the Potomac River in the North and finally to the James River in the South. As you can see, it is one of the most important strategic locations in the Virginias.
The Physical Components
The Deluxe version of the game comes with a High Quality Mounted Game Map or the standard game arrives with a heavy duty paper map. For my money, the mounted map makes all the difference in the world, especially with block games. The other components of the game are;
- 71 blocks (39 blue, 32 gray)
- Label sheet (for blocks)
- USA Order of Battle Card
- CSA Order of Battle Card
- Dice (4)
- Shenandoah Rule booklet
The quality of all the components is top notch and the stickers apply to the blocks with no problems at all. As with all block games, you just need to be very care when applying the stickers as you do want them to go on as straight as possible this way they look good on your mapboard.
The rules booklet is only 8 pages in length. They are divided into 9 different sections which are;
- Game Turns
The first thing we will do is to look at the key areas of the game manual. The Game Turn defines a players sequence during the turn. Here players perform their actions in distinct phases. The phases of the game turn are;
While the Game Turn Sequence may sound simple, it is the interaction of these phases that makes the game easy to understand and yet offers players a multitude of play options and gives the game replay ability.
There are three types of blocks in Shenandoah and they are;
Only one side of the block has the sticker on it and it faces the owning player. As you can see from the sample counters shown, all information is printed right on the sticker. The current Strength of the unit is always the number that is at the top. When a unit receives a step reduction, the block is rotated counterclockwise to reflect the new strength.
The first thing that a player does following Initiative determination is to activate his sides Headquarters units. With the activation of a Headquarters unit, its strength is reduced one step. You can think of this as unit’s supplies being used which can be replenished during the Supply Phase. Once activated, units under the command of the HQ units can move 1 or 2 towns depending on their action. If attacking, only one town is moved. Also, there is a finite number of units that can move or move and attack down a road depending on the type of road being represented. There are four different types of Roads in Shenandoah and they are;
Each of these has their own movement and attack limitations,
Battles are fought following all movement and are done so one by one. Each side reveals blocks by tipping them forward so that their opponent can see the strength of each block. Battles are fought in rounds with the maximum number of rounds being allowed is four. Each block that is in a battle has one turn to fight during a round. The sequence of the battle depends on the firepower rating of the blocks that are present in the battle. First, all “A” blocks will fight, then all “B” blocks will fight followed lastly by all “C” blocks.
Once you have determined the units that are going to fight, it is time to resolve the battles. Battle resolution is relatively straightforward. First players need to determine how many dice need to be thrown. They perform this task by looking at the steps on each block and that will be the number of total dice thrown. Now the player looks at his attacking units’ firepower and any dice that were rolled that are less than or equal to the units firepower scores a hit. This is a simple yet very effective combat system. However, as I show in the Combat example below, it is much easier to roll the dice one unit at a time and in this way you don’t lose track of any attacking units.
As an example, on Turn 1, The CSA player advances two cities to Harrisonburg. The Union player responds on his turn and also advances to Harrisonburg. Since both players now have units in Harrisonburg, a battle ensues.
As you can see, I have laid out the units for each side across for their counterparts. First we resolve the “A” Artillery unit battle. The Union player rolls 3 six sided dice (3d6) and rolls a 6,3,6 which are all misses. Next the “B” units attack and here again the CSA player is fortunate as the Union player rolls a 1d6 and has a 4 which is another miss. Finally, the “C” units must battle. Here we roll individual dice for each Union attacking unit. The first unit, Carroll, rolls 3 dice and scores a 1,5,2 which means Campbel will be reduced by one step. Next we have Kimbal rolling 2d6 at Taliaferro and the roll is a 2,4 which is a step reduction on Taliaferro. Now there are two Union Units left and Sullivan attacks Stonewall and rolls 3d6 with the outcome of 4,6,4 which are all misses. The final combat will be between Tyler and Stonewall. The Tyler unit rolls 3d6 with the resultant die rolls being 6,1,4 which and roll of a 1 or 2 scoring a reduction which means Stonewall is reduced by 1. There can be a total of four combat rounds with each player alternating being the attacker or defender. Following the first round, players may retreat blocks if they feel the situation is not to their advantage. To complete the first round of combat, the CSA player would become the attacker and use the same procedure to attack the Union units. At the end of 4 complete battle rounds, if the attacker has not defeated the defender, the attacker must retreat.
Shenandoah by Columbia games is an extremely enjoyable, fun block game that has a high level of playability. It is one of those games that’s simple to learn and play, but difficult to master. The plethora of tactics that each player can use offers numerous possibilities to maneuver and gain an advantage over their opponent. I can’t wait to see more games of this type from Columbia Games with everyone celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Finally, what more can a wargamer want than a fast moving, simple to learn mechanics game that has a high replay value. Columbia Games has another winner on their hands with the release of Shenandoah.
MARP Deluxe Vers. $89.95 Standard Version $59.95