There used to be a list of periods I never was quite interested in playing. One of the firmest places on this list was reserved for the American Civil War. Somehow my possibly largest collection of 28mm historical figures has become American Civil War Confederates. One of the reasons for this is Longstreet.
In Longstreet (written and published by veteran games designer and historian Sam Mustafa) players take on the role of roughly brigade-sized forces in the American Civil War.
What do I need to play?
I got the printed book and a set of Longstreet cards. The rulebook itself is available printed (softback, A5 size, 160 pages, full colour, high quality print) or as PDF.
It has to be pointed out that each player needs a set of Longstreet playing cards, at least the action cards deck is required for each player to play the game.
Printer-friendly cards are available for free from Honour Wargames’ website. Alternatively there are several printing services around which you can use to get your set printed. Drive Thru Cards for instance offer such a deck for a reasonable price (depending on shipping costs).
More on the cards, how they work and which ones are required for each player exactly in a bit.
Apart from these components the players will need a good handful of 6-sided dice (12 to 15 per player), a tape measure, some smoke markers (to indicate firing) and of course miniatures to play with.
Which Miniatures Can I Use?
Sure, they’re just markers, you can just as well use buttons, stamps, empty bases, and so on. Let’s assume people want to play with miniatures.
I use 28mm figures, mostly Perry plastics. Because why would one not. When I got into historical wargaming I realized that most people in my area already got 28mm ACW collections, so it would have been rude not to.
Longstreet uses Base Widths (BW) as the measuring unit for movement, firing ranges, and so on. So the game is scaleable to fit your collection. The only prerequesite is that single bases should be square or deep rectangles.
My figures are based on 40mm bases, 4 figures to each base. Classic. So in our games 1 BW = 40mm. Standard movement for infantry in line is 4 BW, so 16cm in our case. The number of bases used in each unit is up to you really. We played with 6 bases to each unit or up to 10.
The size and number of figures you use (and thus the figure-to-man ratio) is entirely up to you, as long as it fits your gaming friends’. The only guideline the rulebook mentions in terms of game scale is that “1 BW roughly equals 40 yards or metres”. For BW up to 2″ a gaming table of 6′ by 4′ will suffice.
How Does the Game Work?
With terrain and figures on the table we can proceed to start the game. Essentially an I-Go-You-Go system is in place. The general player turn sequence is as such:
- Option to start a Fire Phase (= all of their units may fire)
- Option to either start a Move (= any of their units may move) OR Charge Phase (= any of their units may charge)
- Both players redraw until they got 6 Action cards on their hand again
Then it’s the other player’s turn. At the heart of Longstreet we got the
Each player holds a hand of 6 Action cards, which can be used for several different things: Commencing different turn phases (Fire, Move or Charge), “boosting” such phases for certain bonuses, or help reduce casualties.
Let’s say a player wants to start their turn with a fire phase. This requires them to discard one (any) of their hand cards. Then they may elect to spend another specific card to boost this phase if they got a useful one. This is indicated by the little symbol [A] in the right of the card. The example card may be used to boost a charge phase (as indicated by the sabre symbol) for the bonus listed in the text below [B].
So this card may either be used to invoke a fire phase, a move phase, or a charge phase, but in terms of enhancing or boosting a phase for the bonus below it can only be used for charge phases (in conjunction with another card which is used to invoke that charge phase in the first place).
The number in the upper left [C] can be used by the passive player to reduce possible casualties caused by enemy fire or close combat this turn. This way players can use cards in their opponent’s turn, which is why BOTH players redraw at the end of each player’s turn.
Another example for a fairly generic Action card:
This card, like any other card, can be used to invoke any phase. Where it really comes into its own though is for enhancing a shooting phase (as indicated by the musket symbol) by giving the active player re-rolls. Since this is a very useful card is has a big old 2 in the upper left, meaning that you (when being the passive player) may use it to reduce damage to a unit by 2.
Since each card can be basically played in three different ways (invoking phases, enhancing phases, and reducing casualties) of course you’ll have to manage them carefully.
On top of all of that there are some cards which you may play during your opponent’s turn as interrupt cards. Some cards are specific to one side (Union or Confederates) and/or limited to use in certain years of the war.
All the Other Stuff
As far as the action on the table goes, let’s have a look at the mechanics by turn sequence, starting with the
Small arms firing ranges are 6BW and is done base by base. First you check how many bases may fire (based on range and angle), then you roll one die per base firing to see if you score a hit. Hits on an enemy unit during a shooting phase are totaled up and indicated by placing a die or other counter next to that unit.
At the end of the firing phase the total hits may be reduced by the passive players by discarding action cards for their Morale value in the upper left corner ([C] in our example above). Actual casualties and morale are rolled into one in this game, so losses depict a general reduction of combat value of each unit.
The remaining number of hits (reduced by the passive player’s cards) then is rolled in dice. Each 4+ means the unit loses one base.
If a Movement Phase is invoked each unit may move or change formation. Cavalry and infantry can either be deployed in line (wider frontage when volley firing) or column (faster movement, but vulnerable vs. fire or close combat). For ease of maneuvering players also may ‘rank up’ their bases. at the cost of firepower, as only the first ‘rank’ of bases may fire.
Movement is pretty free-form as long as it happens within the front arc of the unit (up to 45° to each side). Sideways or backwards movement halves move distances.
Movement through difficult terrain or formation changes close to the enemy will require you to discard action cards on top of the cost of invoking movement phases or boosting them. One more thing that’ll mess up your card management.
…works pretty much as the movement phase. The tricky thing is that you may only invoke a Move OR a Charge phase of course.
First the active player moves all their charging units. All units involved in each close combat add up their combat dice (one for each base), some factors are worked in, the difference shows who wins the combat, a losing defending unit recoils a number of BW and takes damage (which again may be lowered by the passive player investing action cards from their hand). Attacking units losing a close combat will only ever lose one base before recoiling.
This of course potentially favours the attacker in a charge, and is meant to represent that charges were usually very much about how the defending unit reacts rather than what exactly the attackers do once they got off their feet and into the enemy’s face.
….and that’s the core rules!
Of course there’s a whole host of extra advanced rules to add period flavour, such as heroes emerging from the ranks after a round of close combat, companies of sharpshooters, US Colored Troops rules, field works, etc.
The rulebook contains 9 generic scenarios, such as River Crossings, The Cornfields, Clear the Treeline and so on. Some of these include special rules, such as reinforcements, unwavering defenders, and so on.
Also included you will find rules for randomized terrain placement based on a card drawing mechanism. The Longstreet card set includes a deck of Terrain cards. Players take turns drawins a terrain card each and appling the appropriate pieces of scenery on the table.
A Scouting Roll (modified by the number of cavalry on each side) decides who’s the attacker and who’s the defender, unless you want to decide that in other ways depending on the scenario you play, theatre and point in time of the war.
Objectives aside, games are instantly won/lost if one side reaches their Break Point. Once base losses approach half the total number of the bases in an army you roll a die at the end of each turn. Once [base losses] + 1 D6 = Break Point this side loses the game.
A player also loses once they run out of Action Cards. Since players draw cards rather often they soon may find their Action card deck to shrink. At the beginning of each of their turns they may elect to Reshuffle their hand cards, discarded cards and remaining Action cards in the deck into a new deck. Each time players reshuffle they have to discard the top 6 cards from the new Action Card deck. So if a game goes on long, one side may run out of cards this way and thus lose the game.
After the rules, there’s a whole section of the book dedicated to large multi-player club games, including a basic points system to make up armies.
Last, but not least, there’s
The Big Campaign
This is ultimately what these rules would like you to do with them. It’s a big campaign between two or more players (each representing a Brigade commander) spanning the whole war.
Each player starts with three infantry regiment of 10 bases each, one cavalry detachment of 8 bases, and three bases of artillery (two 6-pdr Smoothbores and a Howitzer).
Now this may sound very ambitious and potentially tiresome, but as with most things, Longstreet abstracts this great feat to a relatively manageable chunk, as seen here:
This of course reflects the escalation stages of the war. Now the clever twist of the whole affair is that wins and losses only matter as a secondary entity, because it’s only Epic Points which help you win the campaign. The goal of each of the brigadiers is to carve out their legacy and become a footnote or even more in history.
Epic Points are gained by holding objectives, showing up for a battle, impressive mass charges by 10 or more bases at once, defeating charges against all odds, and generally amazing feats of command (which usually lead to the demise of poor sods under said command).
Each game is followed up by a campaign phase in which losses to regiments (due to combat or – at least equally likely – by camp fever, desertion and so on), whether or not regiments lose Élan (there are three stages of Élan – eager, seasoned or cautious) and whether or not the commander gets a promoition. All good stuff.
On top of that each campaign phase will have each player draw a number of campaign cards (another deck of cards from the Longstreet cards set), which will affect either the campaign phase, or the next game.
These cards can either be used for the effect specified in the text left or for reinforcing your regiments with new bases (as indicated by the little soldier symbols). Again – decision making. As with Action cards, some of these may be specific to one of the two sides and certain years (such as CS Replacements above), or have different effects depending on the side you play.
In 2014 and 2015 we played a whole lot of different sets of ACW rules for brigade-level games and above. We stuck with Longstreet, and in late 2018 we started our Grand Campaign.
Let’s say that Longstreet isn’t a simulator. It’s rather game-y, written by someone who’s been mentioned to be somewhat of a boardgame designer who happens to write a lot of miniature wargames. Some people may find the on-table action to be too abstracted, and the hand cards to be something standing between them and the actual game.
Especially in the beginning this may be stronger of an impression, since people aren’t familiar with the cards yet. Although I feel that Longstreet manages being a swift-playing historical wargame really well by injecting the whole thing with period flavour.
The card management aspect is at the core of the game, that is true, but once you get two or three games under your belt the thing plays shocklingly fast. As always with card-driven games you can also fiddle with the decks depending on the scenario, which gives endless opportunity to fine-tune in all kinds of ways. Let’s say you want to depict a weary force – throw out close combat modifying cards and cards which boost movement phases.
I don’t claim that Longstreet is the best ACW rules set out there (because claiming that any set of rules was ‘the best’ is absurd), but I think that Longstreet has its audience. Maybe it’s a bit more ‘casual’ than other rules sets out there, but it’s full of tactical decisions and seizing moments. The abstractions applied in gameplay are done in the right places I think, which Sam Mustafa is a master in. Things go swiftly and with a minimal amount of situational modifiers, but all the important period-specific bits are there. Game results are convincing.
So if you have a collection of ACW figures I strongly suggest checking it out, simply because Longstreet is a bit different and challenging.
I hope that you enjoyed this review!