Perryville. Game Analysis

Magazine cover

Firstly, there is a page about this game on boardgamegeek with more images and comments from other people who have player or owned the game. Magazine games can be very mixed affairs, with some being truly dreadful, but they do provide a way for game designers to try out different ideas and present battles and campaigns that would not be viable for more expensive, boxed wargames. I think the only other boardgame covering Perryville is the CWB series one, from 1992.

"Stars and Bars" is a game included with issue 30 of "The Wargamer" magazine in 1984. The magazine also included "Lesnaja",an expansion to an earlier game "Peter the Great" as well as maps for a pacific variant of Squad Leader.

Yes, 1984 was a VERY long time ago!

The game concerns the Battle of Perryville fought on October 8th 1862 between the Union army of Don Carlos Buell and the Confederate army of Braxton Bragg. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the American Civil War will know that we are not dealing with any of the "Great Captains" of warfare here.

The Situation

To briefly summarise the strategic situation, Bragg had invaded Kentucky (not part of the Confederacy) in the hope of winning hearts, minds and manpower while simultaneously drawing Union forces out of Tennessee. Buell moved slowly to intercept and the two forces met near Perryville, Ky as much by accident as design with the Union men seeking water and forage in a time of extreme drought.

The Union army consisted of 3 corps advancing parallel to each other. Gilbert's III corps of 22,000 in the centre with McCook's I corps (13,000) to his left and Crittenden's II corps (20,000) to his right. The army contained some veteran formations but also plenty of new recruits (especially II corps).

Opposed to these 3 corps at Perryville were three Confederate Divisions numbering around 16,800 men. Command of these Divisions fell to Generals Anderson, Buckner and Cheatham, supported by Wheeler's and Wharton's cavalry brigades.

Despite being outnumbered, the Confederates were assisted by the disorganised advance of the Union army and at Perryville there was a small chance of defeating each corps in detail, however the confederate high command proved almost as lackadaisical as their opponents and the opportunity was lost.

The battle itself proved a bloody but inconclusive affair with the union suffering 4,400 losses and the confederates 3,600. This effectively ended Bragg's invasion of Kentucky but he was able to withdraw unmolested. The failure to crush an enemy he outnumbered by more than 3:1 eneded Buell's career.

The Game

The game design is a pretty straightforward hex and counter affair with about 6 pages of rules, a reference sheet containing all the tables and a sheet showing the set-up and reinforcements. Units are typically infantry brigades, cavalry regiments and artillery battalions. Units are rated for attack/defence/movement and unlimbered artillery have a bombardment strength of between 1 and 3 points.

Confederate counters

The lowest infantry attack strength in the game is 2, the highest is 5. Defences range from 2 to 4.
Cavalry regiments rate 1 in attack and defence, there are a few union cavalry brigades rated as 2/2
Unlimbered artillery have zero attack and defence. The counters are OK for the time, but the union ones are rather dark blue so reading the black lettering on them can be challenging at times. Once opposing units get close there is also a need for some dexterity in inspecting stacks of counters including loss and disruption markers. No different to many other games though and stacking is nowhere near as bad as some other games. (Yes, Terrible Swift Sword, I am looking at you!:)
Terrible Swift Sword: A game with too much stacking for me!

Infantry move 4 hexes each turn, commanders, unlimbered artillery and union cavalry move 6, confederate cavalry 7 and supply trains move 3. The terrain modifiers are unremarkable and appropriate to the period, e.g. woods do not slow infantry and their only effect on combat is to block artillery LOS and offer a slight modifier to bombardment. An image of part of the map is presented below. The printing of the terrain does not line up perfectly with the hex grid, but this does not affect play. This is exactly the same on both maps that I own, so I assume it was a problem with the whole print run.

Part of the map

Units have a zone of control into the surrounding 6 hexes so long as they maintain a defence or bombardment strength. Zero strength units are permitted, but have no ZOC and are toast in combat.

Stacking is mostly limited to 2 combat units per hex.

During the game units can suffer two kinds of losses, permanent (white counters) which cannot be recovered and temporary disruption (red counters) which can be removed in the reorganisation phase of the game turn. Disruption affects movement, so an aggressive commander can convert temporary to permanent losses if feeling that his units really need to get a shift on.

I opted to use all of the optional rules when playing as they add more detail without much extra complexity.

The sequence of play includes two player turns, union then confederate, with the following sequence:
1. Movement
2. Reorganisation
3. Defensive bombardment
4. Offensive bombardment
5. Combat

Most of the Confederate army begins the game on the map, but Divisions are released at different times, with only Buckner being available for the first (3am) turn, when the Union only have two Divisions in play. The rest of III Corps is released soon after, but I and II corps come on as reinforcements quite a while later. The Confederates have a very narrow window to throw their weight against an isolated III corps.

The game also includes an extra Division for each side. The union may choose whether to receive Sill's Division of I Corps. If they do then the Confederated may receive Wither's Division or decline it and as a result and drawn game becomes a Confederate victory. I've not played with these Divisions so far, preferring to keep to the historical OOB.

Organisation charts

With the optional rules, before the union move they must roll to see if any corps has limited movement that turn, to represent the confusion among high-command:

Infantry, artillery and the commander of an affected corps have severely restricted movement for the turn.

ONCE in the game, the Confederates may take a double move to represent a forced march. Given how outnumbered they are this is one optional rule that I think is essential!

The reorganisation phase allow units to try and remove temporary disruption losses by rolling a die. Commanders can assist up to two units of their formation each turn if they are with or within 3 hexes of the unit(s):

Disorganised units lose one from their movement allowance and subtract their losses from their attack/defence/bombardment strengths. Disordered artillery cannot limber up.

Bombardment is conducted at a range of up to 2 hexes at full strength or 3 hexes at a reduced strength. A roll is made for each unit in the bombarded hex:

We now come to combat. Cavalry may withdraw from combat, subject their being no enemy ZOCs blocking them, but must roll to see if they become disrupted:

and then the main event, and for me the thing that separates this game from many of the 1970 and 1980s simple hex and counter affairs, the combat results table:

I find this so much more nuanced than most CRTs of the day. Rather than the simple DE/DR/EX/AR/AE type outcomes here we have a combination of two types of retreat, permanent losses and temporary disruption losses. It is a great shame that this was never applied to any other ACW battles/games and I'm quite tempted to do so myself, possibly as a the basis is some 6mm gaming. It might even adapt to my Napoleonic collection. It really is an impressive piece of work.

Units suffering a W or R result have the option to stand in place ant the cost of extra disruption. This is amended for the "stone wall" hex where the disruption penalty is reduced by one, making a stand a more preferred option (a rule that could easily be adapted to similar terrain in other battles, or possibly to notably stoic troops).

The "0" die roll line is to allow for terrain causing a -1 drm such as creeks.
Were there better commanders on the board I might consider a +1 drm for combats involving them, but Perryville doesn't really warrant this.

If defending units vacate a hex then the attackers have the option to advance into it. There is no choice for untrianed units (with underlined stats on their counters) who roll instead:

...and can stumble into a world of hurt if they are imprudent.

The combination of all of the above gives a game that flows really well and never really stagnates. Unless fighting at extreme odds, combat often results in units taking losses but staying in contact. The defenders then may have to abandon good ground or be forced to attack in their own turn at unfavourable odds. This prevents terrain such as hills becoming impregnable but rather they tend to cause additional losses to the attacker and slow things down a little. Units get worn down over time by combat and bombardment so this is a game of attrition rather than explosive masterstrokes.

Victory is determined by enemy strength eliminated (defence/bombardment strength of elimiated units and permanent losses for unit on the board), with extra VP for capturing army HQ hexes, Perryville iteslf, supply wagons (an impressive 6 points each) and eliminating enemy HQ counters. Most games look likely to be close. The confederate forced march turn could be used to launch a surprise 14 movement point cavalry raid against Union supply lines, but otherwise I think units will be too tied up with the main battle to be able to conduct side-shows.

So, there we have it. A neat game of a rather average battle that has some slick mechanisms which provide some good ideas to transfer and adapt to other situations. It would also be a good game to introduce a relative newbie to the hobby.


Lastly, why am I now blogging about a 30 year old magazine game? Well, it is the first board wargame I ever bought. I snagged it from my history teacher at school when he was selling-off some of his old stuff and I have just bought a fresh copy from eBay to replace the slightly tatty map and counters of my original and because I can't track down the reference sheet of the first copy.

It is also just the right size to fit onto a kitchen table and plays in a reasonable amount of time without undue complexity, three things that often rule out board wargames for me at present.

All-in-all this is just one big nostalgia trip!

But a useful and interesting one.


  1. Interesting review and play through of a game I am not familiar. You are quite right about the variability in quality of magazine games. Some of 3W's Wargamer games are very good; others not so much. Same applies to S&T, XTR, and others. My opinion is that when Decision Games took over S&T magazine, game quality plummeted. With pressure to produce on a time schedule, develop often suffered. Of course, there is the odd gem. In my recollections, XTR produced as higher ratio of Gems to Junk.

    As for the CRT, I have seen similar CRTS in other games. In fact, the old Napoleonic ruleset from the 1970's, Tricolor, uses something very similar. Providing the option of trading space for cohesion in the CRT has been used too. I quite like that mechanism. Another decision point to contemplate.

    I would enjoy seeing more of this type of analysis.


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