Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Kentucky in the Civil War: Speed Bump or Trap Play?

Rebel Raiders Strategy Question #1:

Kentucky in the Civil War:  Speed Bump or Trap Play?

At the WBC (World Boardgaming Championships) convention in Lancaster last week, I got into an interesting discussion about the role of Kentucky, most notably Louisville, in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas (as well as in other Civil War games and in history).   It began with this comment from my friend Evan:

“Why would any Rebel player in their right mind NOT invade Kentucky on turn one?”

In Rebel Raiders as in many Civil War games the South goes first.  That means it can get into Kentucky and take Louisville before the North, presenting the Union with a fait d’accompli.   In Rebel Raiders the South takes it by simply placing in Louisville one of the two batteries they can build in a turn.  The South then rolls two dice, and loses the difference in Victory Points.

Evan put forth the notion that this is a no-brainer move.  It is an “in-your-face” challenge to the Union to take this initially neutral city, and it blocks the Ohio – which means any Union warships built in Cincinnati cannot join the Union fleet on the Mississippi unless and until Louisville is taken.  In addition, he pointed out, it protects Nashville.

“What Rebel player in his right mind doesn’t take Louisville on turn one?” He reiterated.  I answered: “me.”

While Evan is not WRONG, I see Louisville not as a speed bump but as a trap play. 

First, the Union never has to take Louisville back from the South – not to win, not even to attack Nashville – which can be assaulted by hitting Forts Henry and Donelson out of Cairo.  So that means the battery may never fire a shot, and that he Victory Points lost will never be recovered.

Second, if the South does not take Louisville, the North might just be tempted to grab it – and that uses up one of their attacks (although in 1861 their attack odds are poor, they can still get lucky in a fight in an undefended port or fort space).  It also means the North has to roll two dice, and give the South the difference in the roll as Victory Points.  The maximum difference is only FIVE – but that is enough to build a Blockade Runner or Gunboat for the South.  It is as much as five Blockade Runners can bring home in a turn from going to any ports other than the two big European ones.

Third, the battery that is used to take Louisville for the South is better used anywhere else:  at Nashville or Forts Henry and Donelson, for example, or at Island No. 10 or Memphis – and that is just in that same theater of operations.  In addition, compensating for the Victory Points expended to take Louisville, as noted above, means extra work for the Blockade Runners – or, if the difference between the dice is the full Five, it means it cost the South a ship it could have built – either a gunboat for defense or a Runner to make points.

The Yankee Case: Louisville is an easy victory and a jumping off point.

There are, of course, those who see Louisville in a different light.  A Union Louisville does open up Cincinnati as an extra shipyard to build up the Mississippi Squadron more quickly.  It does threaten Nashville from the land side – which means the South has to worry about Tennessee being invaded from another direction, and if Nashville falls the North can immediately strike either Memphis or Chattanooga before the South can react (assuming the North took Nashville on its first attack of the two it gets each turn, or that the Union purchased or has cards that give it additional attacks).

Bottom Line:  Both Sides are Right

As in many games (and many wars) both sides make a good argument for why Louisville is or is not important.  Next time you play Rebel Raiders, which way will you jump?

(Photo below shows a Union Louisville - top center, yellow square with round blue marker with white star - and a Union controlled Island No. 10, with a fleet at Cairo.)

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting analysis. I'd like to see more of these strategy pieces. Personally, I'm not sure whether there is a compelling case to be made for invading Kentucky for the Rebs, but the interesting thing about this game is that there are so MANY ways to play. Unlike the old Avalon Hill games it is much too multivariate to come up with or even resort to "perfect plans."