Monday, July 31, 2017

Review of Butkovich - "THIS BLOODY FIELD: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Battle of Shiloh"

[This Bloody Field: Regimental Wargame Scenarios for the Battle of Shiloh by Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2017). 8.5 x 11 Softcover, color maps and photos, orders of battle, bibliography. 127 pp. ISBN:978-0-9904122-7-4. $26.99]

The author of a pair of rather excellent Civil War battle studies covering the 1864 Allatoona Pass and Pickett's Mill battles, Brad Butkovich is also a very active creator and self-publisher of scenario sets for tabletop miniatures, having already released titles for the battles of Gettysburg, Antietam, Chickamauga, the Atlanta Campaign, and more. His latest, This Bloody Field, covers numerous events from the April 6-7, 1862 Battle of Shiloh.

Unlike PC and board wargames, which can readily simulate entire battles, sheer space and sanity considerations typically mean that tabletop miniatures must have much more limited ambitions. Indeed, Butvovich's nine scenarios—(1) Confederate Onslaught (the initial moments of the battle), (2) Sherman Attacked!, (3) [John A.] McDowell vs. [Preston] Pond, (4) The Crossroads, (5) The Peach Orchard, (6) The Hornet’s Nest, (7) Bull [Nelson] in the Cotton Field, (8) Duncan Field, and (9) End of the Line—range from brigade vs. brigade engagements on up to divisional affairs. The selections and historical assumptions made with these denote a familiarity with the most recent literature, and one can easily recognize the influence of Timothy Smith and others in the content of the historical background notes, fine balance in scenario numbers between first and second days (five and four respectively), and heavy appreciation of Lew Wallace's actions on April 7 (as demonstrated with the "End of the Line" scenario).

Considering the fact that a multitude of rule sets and miniatures scales (both for figure size and time interval involved) exist, Butkovich wisely makes his scenario designs as adaptable as possible. In addition to having a pair of multi-color maps attached, each scenario chapter is organized into Background, Game Overview, Terrain, Deployment, Victory Conditions, Order of Battle, and Optional Rules sub-sections. "Background" offers a brief historical summary of the military action(s) that will be simulated. "Game Overview" discusses the number of units involved (based by default on 15mm figure scale), the table dimensions required, and the total number of turns (which will vary depending on the rule set employed). The "Terrain" section describes the battlefield topography in the context of up to 15 specific landscape features and also contains author suggestions regarding their effects on movement and combat. "Deployment" (to be used in close conjunction with the chapter maps) designates initial on-map unit and leader placement along with arrival points for reinforcements. "Victory Conditions" are based on the traditional victory point (VP) system.

In the "Order of Battle" section, very detailed regiment and battery scaled organizational charts are provided for each scenario. Features of the OBs include officer names, unit strengths (Present-for-Duty and Effective Strength), five different figure/stand scale options for each regiment, morale/status values, and unit armaments (both infantry-cavalry shoulder arms and battery compositions). Butkovich freely admits that many of these determinations will be in dispute, and he helpfully indicates in red those lower confidence level unit numbers, armaments, etc. established through extrapolation or educated guess versus those taken directly from the source material. Some chapters have "Optional Rules" suggestions that can either increase or decrease general scenario complexity or the level of difficulty that one side or the other will experience. Butkovich also inserts into various sections a number of scenario-specific 'special rules' regarding things like friendly fire incidents due to uniform colors, camp looting, and prior fatigue/disorganization levels.

The multi-color maps and numerous orders of battle can be regarded as standalone features of the book that are well worthy of recommendation regardless of how one might use the book. In terms of terrain representation and unit scale, the maps are better than those typically found in today's battle studies, though it should be said that the ones inside the book lack the high-res crispness (and elevation lines) found in the more beautified version used for the cover art.  In addition to the orders of battle for each scenario, which do take into account casualty estimates from earlier fighting, there are also complete army orders of battle for each side in the back of the book.

Obviously the true test of a scenario book like this is to test it in actual gaming conditions. That will have to be left to others, but it does seem that the volume provides all the tools and background resources needed to recreate interesting and accurately rendered scenarios. Even if the reader has no interest at all in doing this in practice, the book still possesses considerable reference value. For some Shiloh students, the maps and orders of battle alone will be worth the purchase price.

1 comment:

  1. John FoskettJuly 31, 2017

    Drew: Thanks for this review. As I've indicated in the past, my only meaningful criticism of this book is the author's apparent failure to consult Witham or Bearss on the armament of several batteries. In game terms and in most instances, these errors almost certainly make no difference. They just annoy the purists among us. But the maps, terrain descriptions, and photos more than make up.

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