Cannon Fire at Gettysburg

...by Design Game Review

Gettyburg Battlefield

Union troops defending Cemetary Ridge. The regiments are in line, some have built breastworks for better protection against enemy fire. The Confederate units on the left are just outside rifle range. The Cannon Fire series of tactical level simulations has the look and feel of an American Civil War miniatures game. In the Solo mode the game's artificial intelligence (AI) puts up a good fight, but a live opponent will give you a much more challenging and exciting game. Unfortunately, there is no scenario editor which would allow the wargamer to explore "what if" situations. Gettysburg would have been a different battle if Stuart's cavalry and horse artillery had arrived in time to participate.

System Requirements

  • Mac/PowerMac
  • System 7
  • 4 MB RAM
  • 1.5 MB Hard Disk
  • Solo Wargame
  • Two-Player Mode
  • Play by eMail
Gettysburg Peach Orchard, Wheatfield and Devil's Den

The Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, Little Roundtop, and Roundtop viewed from the Confederate starting position. The Union brigade encircled in black is the 3rd Brigade - Col. Strong Vincent - of the 1st Division (Barnes), V Corps (Sykes). The regiments of this Brigade are: 20th Maine, 16th Michigan, 44th New York, and 83rd Pennsylvania. The Union player will have to move units of V Corps up to Round Top immediately. Confederate brigades can reach the summit at just about the same time, and the first rounds of combat will be fought in columns.

Gettysburg Culp's Hill, Power's Hill, and Baltimore Pike

Culp's Hill, Power's Hill, the Baltimore Pike, and the bridge across Rock Creek. Union reinforcements arrive along the Baltimore Pike, but they cannot easily be fed into the ongoing battle, because of the traffic jam in the area immediately behind Cemetary Hill. Consider using these troops to flank the Confederate III Corps northeast of Gettysburg.

Gettysburg, the Lutheran Seminary, Cemetary Hill, and Cemetary Ridge

Gettysburg, the Lutheran Seminary, Cemetary Hill, and Cemetary Ridge. The computerized Confederate opponent manages to break into the Union position, particularly if the Confederate advantage is set a little higher, but there are enough Union reserves for prolonged counter-attacks. The real problem facing the Union player is traffic management, getting his reserves into position.

Gettysburg Confederate II Corps deployed on Seminary Ridge

Confederate II Corps deployed on Seminary Ridge.

Gettysburg Confederate III Corps deployed northeast of Gettysburg, east of Rock Creek

Confederate III Corps deployed northeast of Gettysburg, east of Rock Creek

Evaluation

Excellent graphics provide the look and feel of a miniatures game. Infantry and cavalry deploy in lines of two ranks or columns of two. Batteries are easily recognized als limbered, or unlimbered and ready to fire. Only the cavalry horse holders are missing, making it difficult to remember which units may use mounted movement. The board design is very nice, it has a table-top quality to it and is very easy to play on. There are no annoying redraw problems or other typical screen errors when units enter terrain features or change facing inside them. Everything worked beautifully.

The grid-based map allows units to face in one of eight direction. Facing, formation, target type, terrain, and ammunition supply influence the unit's fire effect. The map AI works well, but there are some minor glitches. Units are allowed to cross bridges in line formation, rather than road column. Units attacking across streams suffer no movement or combat penalties. Presumably, assaults across a bridge will not be penalized by the combat AI. Units in column cannot be ordered to follow the road automatically, the player has to maneuver them every step of the way. Terrain modifiers on movement are cumulative. As a result, artillery will be prevented from moving uphill in forests, and infantry will pay heavy penalties.

Fog of War should be selected as an optional feature, making the game a lot more realistic. Even with this feature turned on, the bird's eye view of the battlefield is enough of an advantage for the player. Fog of War hides all units which are not currently in line of sight of an enemy unit. This aspect of warfare is the most difficult to simulate in table-top games, particulary if spotted units move out of view at a later time, but the software handles it beautifully.

Routed units gradually collect stragglers and they will eventually rally. These units form column automatically, and they may then be ordered back into battle. A general officer attached to the brigade provides a morale bonus of 1 to 3 points. Units rally with or without a general attached to them. Adjacent units who are not routed provide a morale bonus of 1 point per unit, up to a maximum of 3 points. Mounted cavalry receive a -5 morale modifier if they attempt to charge good order infantry units. Unit morale seems to range from 3 to 9, depending on the quality of the brigade in question.

Units will fire automatically if enemy troops march into their zone of fire. This opportunity fire rule will provide defending units with the first shot if attacked, as it should be. Some of the more sophisticated table-top games allow opportunity charges against units presenting a flank or rear to a potential attacker. This rule forces commanders to maneuver their units in a more realistic fashion, protecting their flanks at all times.

Show Move will be very helpful, it shows how many movement points a units has remaining this turn. However, it may be more realistic and much more fun to turn this option off, and watch your units get caught in the most inconvenient situations, just like in real battle.

The software ran nicely, the game was fast and it never crashed. $US 24.95 suggested retail price. This game is well worth the money.

The combat AI is ok, but not great. If the Confederate player pushes Hood's division of Longstreet's I Corps around the right flank of the Union position, a major victory can be achieved in three turns. Simply cut the Taneytown road and occupy Round Top, that's it. The computerized opponent will not maneuver his V Corps reserves to protect this vulnerable flank. Interestingly, even if the Confederate player choses to do nothing for four turns, he will be handed a major victory. Union troops begin leaving their strong positions on Cemetary Ridge and come down the hill to fight. This glitch must have to do with the way victory points are awarded in the game. Fight a live opponent if possible or play be eMail.

In order to make the computer opponent fight harder, the advantage may be set to a factor of 2 to 6. The effect is that enemy units are more effective in combat and they have improved morale. In fact, this is a kind of cheat mode, it does not remedy the AI problems. Again, a live opponent is the better option.

The Voice option is a disappointment. All units on the field use one of three possible responses: "General?", "Yes, Sir?" or "Your Command?", and the constant repetition will drive the player nuts. It's an opportunity missed, considering how many different regional accents, and foreign languages were spoken at Gettysburg. This reviewer would have loved an "ethnic" version of the game, it would have made unit identification an interesting sideline of the simulation.

Follow Enemy would have been a useful option, moving the visible map section to where the action is. Unfortunately, this did not work on the reviewers Performa 630 with System 7.6.1.

Corps and army commanders are not shown individually. Some brigades have generals attached, probably the corps commander of that formation, but their names are not given in the unit status report. Infantry in line is shown as a 22-figure unit, two ranks of 10 figures each, with an officer and standard-bearer in front. When the unit adopts column formation it has only 15 figures. The difference is not very obvious on the field. The size of unit icons determines the size of the battlefield required to hold them, and the section of the battle which will actually fit onto the screen. A good compromise has been found here.

Night turns cover several hours of real time, but they are not easily recognized unless the player consults his Command Report. The screen darkens only slightly during the night. Infantry line of sight is reduced to the adjacent grid squares, but artillery retains line of sight for three grid squares in the direction of facing.

The option to flip the board around is a nice feature, it provides each player a more realistic view of his own lines. Unfortunately, this option did not work properly on the reviewer's Performa 630. The board flipped, and the troops seemed to be arranged properly, but the place names got mixed up. As a result, the famous Wheatfield ended up in downtown Gettysburg, right next to Devil's Den. Some of the Alerts are incorrect. One message reports that infantry needs at least 4 movement points to construct breastworks, but only 3 points are actually required.

In the course of several review games enemy units typically survived and won melees even if charged in flank or rear. One would expect at least the flank charge to result in an automatic overrun. That's how many of the popular table-top simulations handle a flank charge, and it works well.

In two-player mode, the hand-over is not done properly. Some hidden units are still on screen as the enemy player takes over. These units will disappear again, but their location is compromised. One remedy would be to scroll the screen display over to the enemy side of the line prior to ending your turn.

The game simulates only the 2nd and 3rd day of the battle with the main forces engaged. In order to avoid a quick defeat the Union player needs to deploy units of the V Corps to extend the line from Devil's Den to Round Top. The 1st Division of V Corps was employed in this role, and Vincent's Brigade took the extreme left flank of the line. It was at Round Top that the 20th Maine served with distinction.

This Gettysburg simulation is an enjoyable game, similar to a miniatures battle, only much faster to set up and play to conclusion. The troops are already painted, based and ready to fight. Facing, formation and terrain makes a difference in the game, and this is where the fun is. The game is tactical in the sense that players have to take care of almost everything, except bringing up their own ammunition and taking the wounded off the battlefield. Play-by-eMail is great, but what about play-by-internet with several commanders on each side?

Sample from ...by Design, Inc.

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