Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Battle of Shiloh: Altar of Freedom

Ken was over on Sunday for an epic Battle of Shiloh refight and our first game of "Altar of Freedom".  AoF were the rules used by "Little Wars TV" in their big Antietam refight and written by Greg Wagman, also of Little Wars TV.  We were able to play through 3 turns and so far we have been very impressed.  Here is the bottom line for this post - if you're looking to command armies, these are the rules for you

Shiloh is actually the recommended introductory scenario in the rules and the size of the battle was conducive to play on a 6 x 4 table using 15mm miniatures. 

Battlefield looking south.  Note the Rebel Corps Columns massing along the road network at the top of the picture.  This is the 7am turn.  Ken mentioned, and I agree, that the roads are very important in this truly grand-tactical game.
I offset my deployment a bit from the historical one by setting my defensive positions a bit further back, with divisional supports behind the line.  Sherman is in the hornet's nest guarding the sunken road.

Rebel approach march

Union troops along the sunken road in "the hornet's nest" - I swapped places and Sherman's troops are holding down the right flank now.
We really liked the bidding system for activation and control of the turn clock, and also the ability to bank your points for use in the end phase - enabling you to exploit a breakthrough, shore up a line, bring up reserves and other things.  Many wargame rules fall short in this department (exploiting opportunities on the battlefield) and the ability to do this is a powerful part of the game.  It also makes resource management and timing a crucial part of the command experience in the game as well - something both Ken and I liked very much.  Darren, if you're reading this, you'll probably really like these rules.

Rebels coming on!
 Ken moves up a division to assault the hornet's nest and sunken road immediately.  They're repulsed but it's only 8am!  There are alot of turns to go before nightfall...

Sherman's battery opens the ball.
 Interestingly, after reading the wikipedia page on the actual battle, Ken follows the historical attack.  He is also experiencing the "bunching up" that the rebel assaults experienced at Shiloh and regiments lost their cohesion and command and control during their attacks due to the terrain, making their assaults less effective.
Note the rebels stacked up behind the lead brigades.

 Ken also sends a division to probe the Union right where i've foolishly placed my artillery guarding the extreme right flank.  Grant makes a mental note to move that battery!  At the current stage of the battle, you could fit an entire division through the gap between the center and right flank.  I've got to remedy this ASAP!

Yankee brigade pushed back as the rebs prepare to tear open the line.

Sam Grant arrives!  I send him into the center where the fighting will be thickest.  The location of your commanders is extremely important for the end-phase where they may be used to shuttle troops around - for a cost in action points.

Bringing up Brigades to close the gap in the center!

Meanwhile the Rebels keep coming!

Meanwhile, Breckenridge's reserve corps moves up.

More Rebel units massing to assault the Hornet's Nest.  So far, Ken has only thrown about 2 Brigades against the position.  That will change soon!

Elements of the I Rebel Corps moving against the Union right.
 One interesting thing we noted were the pursuit rules.  Winning a combat is one thing, but sometimes your Brigades may pursue, and apparently the pursuit is mandatory!  Buckland's Brigade, during another repulsed assault against the Hornet's Nest, pursues their rebel attacks by going "over the top" of the sunken lane charging directly into the Rebels.  They would go on to win 2 more combats before being repulsed themselves.  They would also earn a fatigue marker or 2 in the process, before being forced back to their own lines.  Wow! Talk about nail biting!

Buckland's Brigade of Sherman's Division go over the top and counterattack into elements of the III Rebel Corps!

Trying to bring up additional brigades while the Rebels probe the Union right.

Ken brings up artillery to support assaults against the hornet's nest!  Note his brigades fanning out now.

A bigger picture of the morning's fighting.  You can see the heavy action around the sunken lane, Union center, and right.

A.S Johnston, Commanding!  Ken has him in the Rebel center.

Ken stepping up assaults against the Union right!

More reinforcements coming up

At the 9:00am hour, Ken scores a major breakthrough and pushes one of Sherman's Brigades back!  he gains a foothold in the sunken lane now!  Note the supporting brigade next to them have 2 fatigue markers as well and things are starting to get a bit scary on the Union left!

Looking at the table the combat is a jumbled mass in the center, just like the real battle!

Ken is moving strong forces towards the Union Center and keeping the pressure on the Union left in the hornet's nest.  I am pushing a reserve division along the tennessee river but through my field glasses I can spy troops of Breckenridge's reserve corps moving up the river road!  

Elements of I Rebel Corps massing to assault the Union Right again!

Lead elements of Breckenridge's Corps have almost reached the Union left!

the entire battlefield looking west to east

Ken's toe hold in the hornet's nest!  I'm going to have to make something happen in the center soon or the III Rebel Corps will be unchecked!  Sherman's men can't hold much longer!

Ken has a Brigade in the hornet's nest and a Brigade supporting them - look at this dramatic breakthrough here!

2 batteries supporting the assault against the hornet's nest!

Confederates assaulting!

Union Reserves skulking about on the left next to the Tennessee River!

Hard fighting at the crossroads

Grant moves up into the thick of the fighting where i can use him to position more units to stem the rebel tide!

Wow we only got to the start of the 10am turn before Ken had to leave but this was a wonderful game, and one where I'm pleased to say really puts you in the boots of the Army commander.  The point bidding, turn clock control, and post-turn movement really makes this game special and unique.  You will have to think in terms of where to counter attack, where to put reserves and the timing of it all makes the decisions that much more important and dramatic.  How do you bid the Divisions to move?  First?  Or wait to go "in the middle?" 

The game requires an element of staffwork and planning by forcing you to be aware of the road network, higher ground, and enemy avenues of approach.  You also need to watch your troops who have high fatigue markers and ensure you can switch out tired troops with fresh ones.

The best part of all of this is that the elements are nicely woven into the game, not forced upon you with endless modifiers and charts.  The simplicity of the rules ensures that you are making command decisions throughout the game and that in itself is a major win in my book.  Mission Accomplished!  Now if only we could lobby Mr Wagman to create a Napoleonic version, I'd buy in a heartbeat.

Ken and I should be finishing up the game next weekend.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting set of rules. Game looks great and nice to see a return to FtF gaming.

    1. Cheers, Jonathan it was a very fun and tense game.

      Both of us work from home now so the risk I'm hoping is lower. Weve played 2 outdoor games so far and this was our first indoor game. I'll let everyone know if I get sick!

      As for the rules, they are very innovative and make for a great face to face game. Solo not so much since you need another human to bid priority points for the other side.

      I wish he'd make a napoleonic version!

  2. Steve, lovely table and really nice to see Shiloh on a 6' x 4'. I was going to ask about the bidding the impact on solo play, but your answer above takes care of that ...... unfortunately :-)

    1. Thanks Norm! I'm sure there is some gee-whiz way you could do the bidding randomly but it would be random and not tied to a particular strategy or plan.

      I suppose you could just nominate main efforts and supporting efforts, but it would still take away from the surprise element when the bids are read out.

  3. Wow! Quite the battle! Very nice.

  4. Sound fascinating Steve - thanks for this.
    Yes - I have purchased the pdf and scenario books now :)

    You are absolutely right sir - intrigued by these rules mechanisms.

    Now, it just happens that I have been re-basing my 20mm ACW back to 3"x3" bases for V&B - but I think they will still work fine for AoF.

    1. Cheers, Darren. These are right up your alley with the command and resource management aspect. I think youd like them.

      Also I think the 3x3 bases would work fine.

  5. I saw the Litte Wars TV Gettysburg game and I know they are meant for smaller scales however I was musing if they would work with 28mm figures.

    1. Mark I dont think it would be a problem but on a 3 x 1.5 base you may only be able to fit a small number of figures. Still though it is the base width that counts so I say go right ahead!

  6. Fabulous! I love all things ACW. These rules have been on radar for awhile but I already have SO many ACW rules... how many bases make up a unit can I ask?
    The table looks great as well as the miniatures. Awesome presentation. 😀

    1. Thanks, Stew- me too. The AoF rules call for basing your brigades on single unit bases like volley and bayonet. I plopped 3 x fire and fury bases onto a single 3 x 1.5" "sabot" and the only issue we've had so far is I should have used blue-tac to tack down the figures as they slide off the sabots.

  7. Interesting; thanks for the write up! I too would be interested in how he might adapt the concepts top Napoleonic warfare.

    1. If you do a Google search you'll find some discussion about it on TMP. The biggest changes, in my humble opinion, would be cavalry weights and combat modifiers but it seems that it has been tried.