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Before the Game: Thoughts on Union Strategy
An Introduction: I’m an experienced old grognard who began wargaming back in 1967. I’ve played many a game of FtP, but I don’t consider myself an expert player or even a particularly good player. I’m not in the ranks of the likes of James Pei or Mark Hermann or any of the expert players. Perhaps for that very reason this AAR will be helpful to newer players, looking to learn the basics and not yet ready for the subtleties that more advanced players can teach them and me.
It is difficult to be too specific about operational plans until the cards are dealt and one’s precise capabilities are known. Here, I’ll try to give an overview of my thoughts on general strategy for the early turns of the upcoming match. I won’t have a clue about my strategy for the overall game until I see how the opening goes, as my experience shows the first three turns can set the stage for the rest of the game.
First and foremost, the Union must protect Washington DC. A close second is keeping DC connected by rail to the north. Losing that rail line costs the Union 4 SP’s per turn in reinforcements, and of course losing the capital space costs a whopping 30 Strategic Will. If the turn one cards allow it, the best defense is a fast offense that has a chance to eliminate 1 or 2 of the Confederate’s 4 SP’s in northern Virginia immediately. However, I can’t risk leaving myself without a 3 ops card to respond with the Army of the Potomac should the Confederates make a bold move north. So attacking is practical only if there are at least 2 “3 ops” cards in the initial deal. In any event, I must avoid allowing a Confederate raid in Maryland or Pennsylvania.
Second, the Union needs to take Kentucky, starting with Paducah and Louisville. It is very important to deny the Confederates these potential fort sites and river crossing points, as well as to prevent Confederate SW from hitting that magic “110” value that might trigger Foreign Intervention.
Third, the Union should play aggressively with its navy, never missing an opportunity raise the blockade level any time in the first half of the game or even later, never failing to raise the amphibious modifier when possible, and snatching up a few coastal forts as soon as possible. Fort Gadson is especially valuable, as it is a Florida space, making that state easier to convert, and its capture threatens the heart of Georgia, effectively enabling the Union to easily create a serious threat if the Confederates don’t properly garrison that port.
Minimizing attrition is important, but not at the expense of enabling aggressive operations or at least the threat of them. Finally, the Union must remember not to become overly aggressive in the first three turns. Take and fortify Manassas if possible. Take Columbus if it is handed to you, but don’t expect to hold it early on.
Thus, my goals for the first three turns are:
1. Hold DC and its rail line connection; if possible take Manassas and fortify there. Do not allow a Confederate PC in Frederick MD.
2. Avoid a raid in the east
3. Contest or take Kentucky
4. Create coastal threats
Final note: the Union can easily lose the game in the east, but will rarely win the game in the east, at least in the early going. If the Union wins, they probably will win the game in the west and in Georgia.
Pre-game Pep talk. Confederate thoughts on the struggle to come.
I probably began playing wargames from a slightly younger age than Mark, but that started around 1981 or so when I was 13. I certainly can’t say that I have more total years of experience with gaming!
I have only played about 11 games of FtP so far, all with Mark, and I’ve learned that the Confederacy is much harder to play well for newer players. My first 5 games were as the Union. I lost the first 2 badly, as expected, but then managed to win the next 3. Confident that I finally had a handle on playing the North, we switched up, and I found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of the sledgehammer! We’ve now played about 6 games with me as the South and I’ve only won once!
Needless to say, with a record of 1-5, I’m nervous about the outcome. On the plus side, since this is an important game, we’ll be taking more time to carefully plan our moves which decreases the chance that I’ll make big mistakes. More casual games move faster and things can be overlooked, leading to bad decisions.
As for my opening strategy, I know that the South has to be aggressive early, before the Union strength gets too powerful. Their greater numbers of SP’s can pile up to massive proportions in the mid game, which is just when the Yankees get Grant(1-3-3)! Unfortunately, I usually get too aggressive and end up paying a steep price for it.
I’m going to try to play it slightly more defensively to start. My biggest mistakes have often been leaving my capital ungarrisoned in my zeal to attack. Several times, Mark has been able to walk a small corps 8 spaces from outer Timbuktu to grab it when I assumed it was safe. That can’t happen anymore!
My number 1 priority is a fort in Manassas, ASAP. I’ve been able to hold off the Army of the Potomac indefinitely in previous games from worse positions than sitting in a fort next to Maryland. A credible army in such a position could tie up untold numbers of Yankees defending DC while I get up to mischief elsewhere.
I plan to create a second army in the east and invade the North through either the Shenandoah Valley or West Virginia. Going on the offensive out west seems too easy to block because of the need for forts to get across the rivers. They’re easy to bottleneck and even after I break through are vulnerable to capture, cutting off my army and rendering me unable to convert spaces. In the east, I have two main axes of attack and can pick the one less guarded; no forts required!
to be continued…