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MAYFAIR GAMES    A Martin Wallace Game of the ACW

Anyone who has met Martin [Wallace] will attest to him being a very nice person, intense, clever, intelligent and  always very busy. His brain must be constantly buzzing with new game ideas it’s a wonder he ever has time for anything else - maybe he doesn’t ?  Anyone who has played previous Martin [Wallace] games will know that his rules writing is not always the easiest to follow, especially with Warfrog productions. Martin has addressed this (perceived problem) through his Treefrog publications and now through this wargame from Mayfair Games.

The rules for TEST of FIRE run through 7 short pages with an 8th page of optional and a couple of pages of card details and a Bull Run narrative for those not familiar with what is regarded as the first major battle in the American Civil War. The Confederates claimed it as a victory but it was more of a clumsy retreat by the Union due to a few errors of judgement (by the Union’s General McDowell) and the bad weather (torrential rain). It is also the battle that gave General Andrew Jackson his famous nickname of “Stonewall”.

As a first war game for new players this is a good battle to begin with. Being basically a draw it means both sides are reasonably well balanced and thus a little die-rolling luck and a little skilful use of the action cards can bring about an exciting win for either side. Don’t count on the 45 minutes* game time though, that’s wildly underestimated. 90-120 minutes is more likely, even if you never review the rules.

There are 29 Union and 24 Confederate units (card counters representing foot  troops) - there are no Cavalry units per se but the Rebels have a couple of cards that utilise skirmish cavalry; each side also have 2 artillery units. The Confederates have 2 Generals (Johnston and Beauregard) to the Union’s one (McDowell). The game has a slight towards the Confederates so it is rather surprising that the Union have a regular roll of 4 dice against the Rebels 3.

Play is simple. Roll your dice and set the result of each die to that number on the action board. A roll of 1 means you Draw a card, a 2 or 3 and your Artillery fires, 4s and 5s give you a Move option and a 6 is a Leader roll - take an action in the area your General is in.

COMBAT: Obviously the crux of any wargame is the combat. Martin has opted here for a simple Dungeons & Dragons style whereby you roll To Hit and then if you hit you roll for Damage. This double roll - which is really not necessary could have all been done on one roll, especially if Martin (or whoever had the last word) had opted for D10s instead of D6s. This would have given an instant result and the game would have flowed and moved along much brisker.

We like the card use a lot. The cards have actions that aid you or are hazardous to your opponent. Also if  one of the decks of cards runs out the game ends next turn and the Confederates win because the Union didn’t achieve the terms of their Victory whereas the Rebels held the Unionists at bay and prevented their advance - much like what really happened back in Manassas on that hilly terrain way back in 1861

There are 10 different card types and each side has their own deck made up from these 10, though each deck is NOT fully identical; for example the Confederates have 2 Cavalry attacks, the Union have none and the Union have the only Ford. Cards can affect yours or your opponent’s Turn. We have a couple of issues with the cards:

a) The Ford. Once placed the Ford cannot be moved. This is a game rule but it doesn’t reflect that engineers of the time could move Pontoon-style bridges. It would have been interesting to have had a couple of Engineer cards in the Union deck.

b) The ROUT card. There are 7 of these (4 & 3) and they are the only way we can see a game taking only *45 minutes. If 2 or more enemy units are eliminated you can play a Rout card and roll 2 dice. If you roll a number equal or less than the number of eliminated units you immediately win (and spoil) the game.

The rule for a forced Retreat (after combat) isn’t clear either or at least there are places where it doesn’t work/make sense. Union units flanking on their right that are caused to Retreat have to head towards Centreville. This means crossing the Bull Run (stream) at a point where they cannot cross. According to the rules they are  thus eliminated (as they cannot retreat into a legal area) - that is way too harsh and ruins the Union’s main tactic, and again, spoils the game.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021