This afternoon after work, I met my good friend Paul R. at our friendly neighborhood game store, Game Parlor Chantilly, to play an old favorite, Stonewall Jackson's Way (designed by Joseph M. Balkoski, published by The Avalon Hill Game Company, 1992). We'd played various scenarios of this game before, and this time we went back to replay Scenario 1, "Cedar Mountain," which simulates Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's attempt to halt the U.S. Army of Virginia's movement toward Orange Court House, Gordonsville, and Charlottesville, Virginia. Jackson's efforts would culminate in the Battle of Cedar Mountain, 9 August 1862.
I have always been fond of Avalon Hill games, and I have to say that SJW has become one of my very favorites. The rules are meticulously written, to the point of utter detail and clarity (at the expense, perhaps, of brevity and succinctness). They include some interesting methods for modeling troop fatigue and the effects of forced march and repeated combat on the organization and morale of units. Leadership quality becomes important in attempts to coordinate attacks among multiple divisions. Even in its small scenarios, it poses some great tactical dilemmas that feel true to history.
Most of all, Paul and I found ourselves continually faced with operational challenges that we could easily imagine facing General Pope of the Army of Virginia, or General Stonewall Jackson of the Confederacy. We each had to consider such problems as whether to pursue a retreating enemy at the risk of exposing flanks and exhausting troops, whether to force march a lagging division to reinforce defenses and risk losing unit cohesion, or whether to swing a lone cavalry brigade behind the enemy line for a flank attack at the risk of losing the initiative and seeing the cavalry isolated and wiped out. Some wargames are better than others at posing these dilemmas in a believable way; I find SJW very strong in this regard.
So, of course, the bottom line is that Paul and I had a great time. The game took almost four hours to play, and we enjoyed every minute of it. I was fortunate to have gained the upper hand by the second day of the three-day battle, so on the last day I consolidated Jackson's corps in an uncharacteristically (for Jackson) defensive posture less than five miles from Culpeper. Paul attempted to muster one final assault by I Corps under Sigel but could not unseat the Confederates from their close proximity to the objective. We agreed that the third day's actions were somewhat unrealistic, in that Jackson would not have been so conservative and Pope would not have taken the risks that Paul was forced to take, artificialities introduced by our knowledge that the game would be over after the third day. Nevertheless, it was a fun time, and a great reminder why I enjoy AH games so much.