Germantown – Boardgame Review
Germantown: Washington Strikes Back! Boardgame. Publisher: GMT Games. Designer: Mark Miklos with Bill Madison. $55.00.
Passed Inspection: Momentum chits are an excellent tactical device, wonderfully illustrated counters and rulebooks, solitaire tactics card included for lone gamers.
Failed Basic: Artillery only fires defensively, high price for boxed set with less than 200 counters.
Although it is Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga that gets all the credit for drawing the French into the American Revolution, it was a battle fought two weeks earlier that drew the French into seriously considering an alliance. The battle at Germantown showed that the Continental army could stand toe-to-toe with the best the British had to offer. Indeed, Washington and his army nearly defeated the British just days after their capture of Philadelphia. But fog and the fog of war frustrated Washington’s efforts and turned Germantown into, as Pennsylvania militia commander John Armstrong reported, "a glorious victory fought for and eight-tenths won."
Germantown: Washington Strikes Back! is the seventh volume of GMT’s Battles Of The American Revolution series. For those who have played any of the prior games, no major changes other than the tactics chits being replaced by tactics cards, a change begun in Volume 6 (Pensacola), otherwise the tactics system is identical. (This game also includes seven replacement counters for the game Brandywine, six cosmetic uniform illustration changes and one new Grenadier Guards unit.)
The system is your standard wargame rules with enough battle-specific rules to accurately simulate the campaign in question. This means there are two rule books, one standard series rulebook and one exclusive Germantown rule book, a nice throwback to the SPI days of "quadgames". You also get a very accurate 22 x 34 inch map, a counter sheet of 176 beautiful full-color counters — GMT has won the Charles S. Roberts award for graphics twice with this series and it shows — along with two ten sided dice (read 0 as 0, not 10), two player aid cards, 16 tactics cards (eight for each side), and a solitaire sheet.
Game set-up is made easy since all units and leaders have a set-up hex number printed on them; units that are to arrive as reinforcements have the turn noted, i.e. T-3 is a 3rd turn reinforcement. Units are infantry (a few of them are designated as Light and several have Rifles), artillery, and cavalry. The British army is mainly Regulars (red stripe across the top of the unit) with a contingent of Hessians (green stripe) and a single Provincial / Tory unit (yellow stripe). The American army is broken into the main army under Washington (dark blue stripe along the top of the counter), Greene’s division (light blue stripe), and Armstrong’s militia (no stripe). Leaders share the same stripe designation to indicate which units they command for close combat and morale purposes.
At the start of each game turn initiative is determined by each player rolling a d10 and modifying it by that army’s Morale Level. However, since the Americans are the aggressors and have taken the British by surprise, the first three turns of Germantown have the Americans acting first; initiative is randomly determined on game turns four through ten.
The acting player moves his units, paying movement point costs for terrain entered and having to stop upon entering an enemy Zone of Control (ZOC) (as well as paying an extra Movement Point (MP) for the ZOC). Units that move along roads without entering enemy ZOCs can take advantage of Strategic Movement; their MP allowance is doubled. Stacking limits are five friendly Strength Points of infantry and cavalry per hex plus one artillery unit of any strength; leaders do not count towards stacking.
After movement comes the Rally Phase. Units are either Parade Order (combat ready), Pinned (locked in melee), Disrupted (half strength, limited movement, no attacking), or Shattered (no movement or attack, defense of one). A Pinned unit that has been moved out of an enemy ZOC has the PIN marker removed; it is now Parade Order again. Disrupted and Shattered units not adjacent to enemy units can make morale checks; a leader is not needed to rally (the unit’s company commanders are sufficient). Roll a d10 and add the unit’s morale, if a leader is stacked with the unit add his Leadership modifier as well. A unit recovers on a roll of 5 or better; Disrupted becomes Parade Order, Shattered becomes Disrupted.
After movement and rallies are completed, the defending (non-phasing) player may fire his artillery, then both sides fire their rifle troops simultaneously. Both procedures are similar; count the number of strength points firing, cross-reference by the range in hexes (rifles can only fire into adjacent hexes, artillery can fire up to 3 hexes away) to find the number needed to hit, then roll a ten-sided die. Modify this roll by terrain and other factors (-1 if attacking light infantry, +1 if targeting artillery, etc.). Roll equal to or higher than the number listed and score a hit; a second unmodified die roll determines the damage which can be retreat, disruption, step loss, morale loss, etc. Line Of Sight rules for artillery are simple, involving only blocking terrain (which includes units).
Close combat completes the game turn for the phasing player. All combat units adjacent to enemy units must attack; all enemy units in friendly ZOCs must be attacked. The phasing player breaks up the combat as he wishes, keeping in mind that attacking units stacked together can attack different defenders but a stack of defending (non-phasing) units must be attacked as one. For each combat both players designate one unit as their lead (frontline) unit; these are the guys who will suffer the bulk of the combat losses. Combat is broken down into an odds ratio, rounded in favor of the defender, then roll a d10. The roll is modified by a variety of factors, including the morale of the lead unit, the Close Combat Modifier of any stacked leaders (only one per side, highest ranking if more than one), +1 for cavalry attacking non-cavalry, -1 if the attackers are coming across a stream, etc.
The die roll is also modified by tactics. At the start of each combat, both players choose a Tactics Card and then reveal them simultaneously; leading to a modifier between -2 to +2. So if the defender chooses to Stand Fast against a Frontal Assault the combat roll is -1, but if the attacker did a Turn Flank instead the roll is modified by +2. Obviously, high rolls benefit the attacker, low rolls are good for the defender. Another pre-battle option is Cavalry Withdrawal; if cavalry is attacked only by infantry, they can just move out of the hex and avoid the attack.
After all combat is finished, the other player becomes the phasing player and goes through the same steps (movement, rally, defensive artillery, simultaneous rifle fire, close combat). That completes the game turn. Determine who starts the next game turn and begin again, so it is possible for one player to act twice in a row (end of one turn, beginning of the next).
One of the nicest elements of the game is the use of momentum chits. In Germantown the Americans start with one momentum chit. During the game the attacker gains a chit if he rolls 10 or more in any close combat; the defender gains a momentum chit if the combat roll is below 0. You also lose a chit if a friendly unit with a morale of +2 is captured. Momentum chits are spent to re-roll close combat die rolls or add 2 to initiative rolls; spending 3 chits allows a player to cancel initiative rolls altogether and decide who goes first in a game turn. This is an excellent way to take some of the randomness out of the game and re-create those dramatic moments of battle when everything seems to turn on one accident of fate or heroic action.
These rules are the same for the entire series of games. Rules exclusive to Germantown simulate the confusion that engulfed the Americans in their near-run loss. This includes thick fog which affects artillery range and non-road movement on the first 6 game turns. The combat units of Stephen’s division (2nd turn reinforcements) undergo random movement in the second through fourth game turns. Beginning on Game Turn 4, if any units of Stephen’s division are stacked with or adjacent to other American units, check for Friendly Fire attacks against those units. This only occurs once in the game; after the Americans blast each other, they learn from their mistake.
(General Stephen was court martialed and cashiered after the battle; although accused of being drunk on duty, it was simply an utter lack of leadership on his part that led to the confusion. The fog certainly did not help, nor did General Wayne turning his troops around 180 degrees and marching back the way they had come, straight at Stephens.)
Germantown provides a Solitaire Tactics card. There are ten small tables based on the combat situation; for example, one side has a leader, the enemy does not, Flanking is possible, withdrawal is not, so roll an eight-sided die (or roll d10 and simply re-roll 0 and 9) to see which tactic they will use in that combat. You can roll for both sides or choose the tactic for one side and dice for the other. This is usable for all of the games in the series.
The momentum chits are a great idea, and the game rules are inspired brevity, enough to get you into the simulation of battle without getting in the way. The last two pages of the exclusive rules book is devoted to black & white photocopies of the counter sheet, front and back, which should be a law for all gaming companies to follow since it makes replacing lost counters so much easier.
The components of the game are gorgeous but woefully overpriced: $55 for one map and countersheet? There goes the gaming budget for the month. Especially considering that almost half of the items are reprints from earlier games; the Series Rules and most of the player aid information is repeated in all seven boxed sets. I also have to wonder why artillery fires only defensively. Shouldn’t artillery, like rifle fire, be handled simultaneously, twice each turn? (Game turns are scaled to one hour, more than enough time to reload!)
Germantown, like the previous six games in this series, is an excellent wargame, with just the right amount of rules, enough battle-specific rules for good flavor and simulation, and some wonderful tactical elements in the momentum chits and tactics cards. Beautiful to look at, but I’d gladly swap basic red and blue counters with silhouettes on them if it cuts the price down so that I could afford to buy another game in this series…because playing Germantown makes me want to buy the other games in the system! Definitely worth a space in your collection.
Solitaire: 3 out of 5. The Solitaire Tactics card really comes in handy here, also the fact that some of the American side’s units already have random movement attached to them.
About the Author
Sean Stevenson started wargaming with SPI and has spent the past 35 years as a freelance game designer and playtester. When not playing any of the 1000+ games in his personal collection, he can be found reading a book on Colonial America or running one of several Pittsburgh area bookstores.