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Shenandoah: Jackson’s Valley Campaign

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Columbia Games, 2 players, ages 12 and up, 2 to 3 hours; $59.99)

 

shenandoahboxWith the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War upon us, it is no surprise that there has been an uptick in the number of games exploring this already popular subject. Shenandoah: Jackson’s Valley Campaign is one of these with the game centering on the campaign waged between Union and Confederate forces in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in May and June of 1862.

Shenandoah is designed by Tom Dalgliesh and Gary Selkirk and comes with a mounted map of the Shenandoah Valley depicting towns, roads, bridges and other important landmarks. There are Orders of Battle, four six-sided dice, 8 pages of rules and, as is typical of Columbia games, wooden blocks (75 in this case) with stickers to be applied to them.

Blocks are used to represent the forces involved (infantry, cavalry, artillery and headquarters) with the stickers used to indicate strength and firepower. The current strength of each block is the number on its top edge and that determines how many dice are rolled in combat. Blocks range in strength from 4 down to 1. Each hit suffered by a block reduces its strength by 1 (indicated by rotating the block 90°). There is also a letter and a number designation on a block with the letter indicating the quality and range of an attack while the number indicates what is needed to be rolled to score a hit on the enemy.

One player commands the Union forces under the leadership of Generals Banks, Shields and Fremont with the other controlling those of the Confederacy led by Generals Stonewall Jackson, Ewell and Johnson. A complete game consists of 16 Game Turns (each representing 3 days of real time) comprised of four phases: Initiative (high dice roller goes first with ties going to the Confederate player), Movement, Battle and Supply.

During the Movement phase, the active player activates any (or all) of his headquarter (HQ) units with any blocks within range being able to move either one or two spaces. Blocks too far removed from HQs are considered “stragglers” and may move 1 space if they survive a die roll. Blocks move from town to town via roads (no hex grids here) and the amount of movement allowed is limited on various roads depending on the type of block and whether units are just moving or attacking. The Confederate player is allowed to travel by rail (on the Virginia Central Railroad) but no other rail movement may be done. Activated HQs are reduced one strength and can then move as well. Once both players have moved their forces, a battle can erupt.

shenandoahmapSome towns are, by definition, friendly (and under the control of one side or the other). Otherwise, towns occupied by one side are friendly to that side but those with forces of both sides present are considered “contested”. In those cases, battles MUST occur. (The “major” towns of the game have numbers – worth Victory Points – associated with them so control of these areas is important.)

Shenandoah follows the standard Columbia Games’ battle method of operation: blocks may fire or retreat and A designated blocks attack first followed by B blocks followed by Cs. Dice are rolled and hits reduce the strength of an enemy block by 1. For example, a block with a B2 rating can attack after all A blocks involved on its side have attacked and will score a hit on a roll of 1 or 2. (While this is basically true for all attacks, there are certain modifications involving artillery and cavalry.) Blocks reduced to no strength are permanently eliminated. If the attacker hasn’t managed to win the conflict by the end of the third round of battle, he can retreat during round 4 (although cavalry units may retreat during the first round) but defending units can still fire on retreating forces.

Once all battles are resolved, players receive Supply points to rebuild the strength of weakened blocks but only blocks that can trace a supply line to their Supply Bases can be rebuilt. (The Confederates have two such Supply Bases – Charlottesville and Staunton; the Union has three: Hagerstown, Cumberland and Salem.) Each player also has a pool of 15 detachments and, each supply phase, chooses one free detachment to deploy on the map. (Detachments are one step blocks that can’t handle more than one hit before being eliminated so they must be handled wisely; eliminated detachments count for Victory Points.)

Another consideration for the Union player is the just how to use Shields’ division. He may keep the division in play OR move it off-board before Turn 7. They may return to the board BEFORE Turn 6 but, once re-entering, may not go off-board again.

At the end of turn 16, Victory Points are calculated. Each player receives VPs for eliminated enemy units: 1 for a “regular” unit, 2 for HQ blocks, ½ VP for each detachment and 1 VP for a detachment HQ. To that total, the VPs of any occupied enemy town are added. Finally, the Union player also gets 1 VP for every Shields’ block remaining off-board. The player with the most Victory Points wins!

As usual with Columbia Games, game presentation is first rate. The mounted map is definitely an improvement over the traditional heavy paper “board”. The wooden blocks are both solid and nicer to handle than the traditional cardboard chits found in your typical wargame. The stickers are easy to read and the rules are clear and straightforward. The historical sidebars are always interesting and give a welcome historical context to the game as well.

The game presents several challenging command decisions for each player. The Union player must decide how valuable and necessary is Shields’ division. Does his presence on the board make up for the VPs his forces will provide if remaining off-board? The Union already has a significant advantage in numbers against the Confederacy which places them in an enviable position to win. But this advantage is somewhat tempered by the better leadership of General Stonewall Jackson. In game terms, this translates into allowing Jackson to activate ALL Confederate forces including the forces of Ewell and Johnson, a subtle but significant ability; Union leaders may only activate their own divisions. Because of that leadership advantage and to make up for the lack of numbers, Confederate forces need to pound away at Union forces and remain on the offensive if they wish to win. The question, remains, however, as to where and when to strike to maximize that leadership edge.

Shenandoah: Jackson’s Valley Campaign is a mid-weight simulation of an important Civil War campaign that allows for some tough command decisions for players on both sides of the battling, another fine addition to the Columbia Games’ line of wargames.

 


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