Tuesday, 5 November 2013


 "Rebel Raiders on the High Seas" - I got this game at the same time I brought the " Wilderness War" game from GMT games back in August, as with our interest in anything to do with the Civil war period having visited many of the battle sites and forts with our multitude of trips to America and reading many books on it, this game had a lot of appeal to us hence the main reason in buying it. We have played two games of it since then, with the first being interesting but as always I always seem to get a few things wrong on the first outing of a board game so after a re-read of the rules Andy and I played another game of it in the weekend (finally!) and it was a really fun and interactive board game.

It is a 2 player game all about coastal and river battles and raids including blockade runners (gathering supplies), screw sloops, gunboats and the mighty Ironclad boats of the period between the Confederates and Union during the American Civil War. The game spans from 1861 to 1864 with 3 periods to each year giving it 12 turns each.

The concept of the game for the Confederacy player is to gain victory points through carrying cargo from the European and neutral ports to the CSA ports using blockade runners and also to conduct raids against the Union shipping using Raiders. These points are then converted into build points where you can purchase more boats and gun batteries. These will form the defense you will need to repel the Union assaults from land- and amphibious-based attacks.

The Federal player has to try to prevent the Rebels gaining VP by sinking raiders and blockade runners, blockading ports and coastal areas with patrolling ships to prevent the blockade runners from getting through and to advance the land and river campaign by taking vital river ports and towns (Richmond and Atlanta) by force thus reducing the effectiveness of the Confederacy.

The victory conditions are for the Union to capture at least 16 Confederate cities, one of which must be Richmond or Atlanta as well as all the green river ports, with the Confederacy is in a negative VP score. The Rebels have only to prevent this to win. There is also an Union "instant win" condition by capturing Richmond AND Atlanta while controlling the Mississippi river ports at the same time that the Confederacy has the negative VP score.

First impressions of the game - The map looks good but it is a fold out paper map, rather than cardboard mounted, so was a little disappointed in that aspect - but the graphics look great and have the names of all the Union places/generals etc facing the Union player and the Rebels facing the other way, so all information relative to each player is easy to see, which is clever. The pieces look good as do the playing cards. There is quite a wide variety of cards on offer as well, so gives the game good replayability

So on the weekend I was playing the rebel confederates while Andrew was playing the Union side, I had some good luck with my blockade runners and raiders early on, while Andy massed river boats and assaulted up the Mississippi river and captured all the vital river ports, and then across inland to Atlanta, but he was denied the overall win as he failed to take Richmond from me and I rarely dropped into the negative victory points, but it was a close run thing, and my cards were good to me in the dying turns.

A detailed look into the game then :

The movement of ships are links between Mississippi River ports, Ocean Ports, Blockade stations, coastal and ocean spaces and each type of ship has different movement values. There are five types of ships - Rebel Blockade runners - these spend most of their time running the gauntlet of the blockade stations to get vital cargo through, then there are the Rebel Raiders - which raid sea zones and the vital whaling zones. Stopping them is the Union Sloop-ships which are forever on search and destroy missions in the coastal and ocean spaces. Their movement points can be spent to search as well as to intensify a search. You can use different methods to search with groups of or individual searches. They can enter the river but only as far as Vicksburg. The other ships are the Ironclads and the Gun boats which both sides are allowed, both can only move in rivers and coastal sea zones only, and the Ironclad must be towed at sea. The gun boats help in the protection of the blockade stations and is useful for attacking batteries and other gun boats up the river. The Ironclads are very hard to kill in assaults making them very valuable in defeating / defending vital ports and river ways.

Combat is rather easy to work out, where ships roll a number of attack dice depending on type and also whether it is sheilded or not by batteries or Ironclads. There are different combinations of ship-to-ship, ship vs. battery and mixed battles, with some ships "protecting" others and so forth. Combat lasts until all ships are destroyed or retreat, with limitations on retreating based on where the combat occurs.

Land combat consists of a die roll between each player, basically a comparative die roll, with the highest die roll chosen from a number of dice which varies with year and card play modifiers. There's an option for the Union to trade dice for a +1 on the die roll (up to a maximum of 3) and a extra bonus for rolling doubles, triples or quadruples.

Reinforcements come in the form of year-variable build points, which are converted to various types of vessels. The rebel also get 2 free batteries each turn and the Union receive 2 guns boat a turn, as well as two amphibious/land assault pawns per turn. Advance planning is needed here so that you have enough assault pawns,  as you have to "buy" extra assault pawns (which allow you to conduct land and amphibious assaults) the turn before - the Union can buy two more for a total of four. The Confederacy has only one counter-attack pawn and has to pay in advance, and paying in advance for an Assault marker that you might not have the opportunity to use (or worse, use and fail) is a tricky consideration.

The supply is rather simple as well, its called "withering on the vine" in the game as it is when Rebel river forts and inland forts are not connected from a previous assault by the Union and is cut off, so depletes vital VP's from the confederacy by rolling two dice (or 3 sometimes) and taking the difference between them.

Cards are played to create permanent or temporary global (or location/situation specific) effects - i.e. Some cards prevent the play of other cards, some cards cancel the effects of others, some cards allow ongoing benefits or penalties. Others are combat specific, being played in certain circumstances in combat to add modifiers (various "named" ship cards), take units out of play or modify their abilities or to add (or remove) dice used in assaults.

Still others add or subtract build points or allow "free builds" of units, there are also cards which represent leaders in play and add dice to assaults in certain locations.

You can play cards at any time unless a specific phase or situation is dictated on the card - and a fairly detailed hierarchy of play order is specified - we never ran into ambiguity on that count.

You are dealt three cards to start, and then gain another three cards during the build phase of each turn, unless the Confederate player has negative VPs (in which case only two cards are added) and in later 1864 turns, when the Union player gets four cards. Cards played are not replaced (except by specific card instructions to do so) so hand management and play of cards are important. Your hand limit is six cards, which is enforced towards the end of the build phase.

There are a multitude of strategies that come to mind when playing the Union side on how to win the game, the first is to smother all the 6 vital coastal areas with ship sloops and make it harder for the blockade runners to get through, while capturing vital remote sea ports such as Key west. Another is too concentrate on the Mississippi (as Andrew had done) and sweep inland. Another would be to take Richmond early on and thus capturing their capital for which looses them vital points each turn as their supply roll has an extra die.

 The game has lots of different ways of playing it I feel, so looking forward to the next game.

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