Baptism at Bull Run. The Battle of First Bull Run. July 21, 1861.

Playtest Game NION: A Union Victory

This sample game (entitled: NION) demonstrates a Union victory. It was played by Brian R. Mullin (Union) and Andy Wright (Confederate). Both Brian and Andy have generously annotated their moves—usually written in the 1st person perspective—in order to give a little insight into what they each attempted to accomplish during their respective turns.

Additionally, NION was played almost concurrently with another game (MUIN) that used the same Union "opening", but ended rather differently with a Confederate victory.

The CyberBoard referee game file for NION can be downloaded below (by readers who wish to review the game in detail):


In the interest of full disclosure, Andy approached this game as a veteran playtester, while Brian took on the role of both playtester and developer during this game. (Gentlemen: Thank you both for taking the time and effort to play, as well as annotate, this game.)


NION Setup


Union Setup

Since this is a playtest game, I really want to push an extreme strategy to see how the scenario holds up. Instead of a controlled and cautious advance, I plan to throw the Union forces towards Groveton and New Market with reckless abandon. Success will hinge solely on keeping extreme pressure on the Confederate forces in the southwest in order to compel most of the CSA maneuvers to be reactive out of necessity. If that does not happen, the Union will surely lose.
The CSA forces are concentrated south of Bull Run on the eastern side of the map. If the Union positions a minimal defense near the river, it should slow but not stop a CSA offensive towards Centreville. My plan is to immediately reinforce Centreville multiple times in order to prevent the town's otherwise certain capture. Six units barricaded in the town should make the siege very difficult. These reinforcements will be my only effort at any serious defense.
For my attack, I want to simultaneously pressure the crossings at Sudley and at the center of the map. The Confederate deployments in the west are very thin and with so many crossings to cover, hopefully I can break through. I overload the far north deployment aimed at Sudley. In past games, I have found that committing just a few units at Sudley Ford lacked the threat level I wish to achieve. I want to draw enemy units away from my primary target: Poplar Ford at 110.


Confederate Setup

With my Confederate setup, I am okay to be relatively weak in the southeast. The chance of a major Union effort there is small, while a Confederate push (or bluff) might force a stronger than necessary Union commitment to that flank. With a larger force in the southeast, I might have considered waging the battle north of the Run, but over three or so plays, I haven't seen that approach executed successfully.
On the other hand, with the overall burden of attack on the Union, and the natural line of defense of Bull Run, being strong farther north has some real upsides. As will be seen, however, my complacency with this set up will not be justified.



6am Union

The plan is put into effect. The Union forces descend on Sudley Ford, Poplar Ford, Farm Ford, and Stone Bridge with all haste. A few units are positioned at defensive crossroads to prevent a CSA counter-blitz.

Playtest Game NION: 6am Union


Playtest Game NION: 6am Confederate

6am Confederate

Brian forcefully moves his forces in advance up north, leaving southern flank across Bull Run relatively exposed. Although my own force in the south is not particularly strong, I move across the river with two "brigades." I then move to start to cover the coming Union assault in the north.



7am Union

The Union vanguard crosses at Poplar Ford uncontested. They are the key to a rapid strike deep into Confederate controlled territory. I ready myself for a lengthy and bloody confrontation at Stone Bridge. I am anticipating the typical hearty defense of this unobstructed crossing point. To break through, I have packed half of my artillery here as well as added a flanking position to the immediate north at Farm Ford.

Playtest Game NION: 7am Union


Playtest Game NION: 7am Confederate

7am Confederate

The good news is the Union mobilizes reinforcements at the cost of morale (although something tells me Brian was intending this all along – makes me suspicious). The bad news are those two artillery units at the Stone Bridge. Ugh. I don't really think I can maintain a credible defense up there, what with getting chewed up at the Stone Bridge and three "brigades" coming on.
First, my thought is to leverage the situation at the Union Southeastern flank: I use maneuver to force them into the approaches or two take a hit and lose some ground. They opt to defend the approaches. I think this is okay: I shift the rest of the advancing force up the flank. This should give Brian something to think about.
With two commands left, what to do up north? My thought essentially is to move the battle farther north, as much as I can, and see what happens. This means moving from the Stone Bridge (!!) but I have one brigade to cover the crossing from the south. Fortunately, the USA units at the bridge are all in the approach, so I will get a turn to recover before he starts to run the road network toward Groveton. PLUS, I get away from those artillery. :-) PLUS I consolidate my forces.
Part of the overall move also sends a 3 infantry toward Sudley Springs, which will be important.



8am Union

The CSA is indeed pushing towards Centreville. My picketing units will have to slow them down and incur terrible losses – my attack must continue. My hammer swings and hits nothing at Stone Bridge. I am completely surprised by the CSA withdrawal there. My vanguard at Poplar Ford is cut off, leaving my cavalry pinned near the river. My slow assault force is now thrust into a forward position. My Sudley Springs strike is also warranting little attention from Andy. Nearly my entire battle plan has already failed to generate the desired responses. The only option the Union has for the remainder of this battle is to press its superior numbers upon the CSA units on the west. There are many objective locales to threaten, but my deployment of cavalry and artillery appears poorly distributed. Maybe a race towards Groveton can secure a Union victory.

Playtest Game NION: 8am Union


Playtest Game NION: 8am Confederate

8am Confederate

Brian prepares himself for the worst effects of my moves in the South, by mobilizing more reinforcements. I do like the morale hits he is taking to cover this, even though it make his army in the northern battlefield seem larger by effect.
I move to Sudley Springs, get my large force in the north on the main turnpike, and continue my southeast flanking effort. Sudley Springs is nice, because it will take Brian a lot of time to get past it.
Regarding the disposition of the force in location 130, I had to peel off the cavalry to "win" the race to location 151 in my rear center flank, one of the USA victory areas. With a choice to chase the cavalry or to move closer to the main road from the Stone Bridge, I chose to do the former.



9am Union

Andy makes a wise choice in his defense of Sudley Springs. With a minimum of effort he has shut down a major prong of my attack strategy. This will cost me dearly in time, morale, and commands. I move four units into the crossroads at 140. From here, I have many vectors into the southern locales of the map. Any over- or under-reaction by Andy in the south could cost him the game.

Playtest Game NION: 9am Union


Playtest Game NION: 9am Confederate

9am Confederate

My CSA staff clearly did not scrutinize their maps very well. There are a number of unfortunate realities of the CSA position relating to the path of the roads. First off, my main force up north was clearly out of position after all, such that I did not even bother moving it. Second, the network of roads out of New Market (particularly location 158) is a little funky, so that I had to use two precious commands on the critical operation of rushing to the west flank south of Groveton.
I pull an additional brigade away from the Bull Run watch to support the oncoming actions on the west flank, and finally reinforcements appear at New Market. In the southeast, an artillery bombardment inflicts a loss on the tenuous USA position there (even though it is clear that I am only in it now to inflict casualties – there will be no flanking maneuver by the Rebs this day given the decisive USA response with reinforcements).



10am Union

The battle now moves to tactical concerns. My forces are deep behind the enemy lines, but are ill-suited to hold territorial objectives. Andy has responded rapidly to the threat on his objective locales. He does not have many units, but they are perfectly positioned to hold off a decisive advance. I decide to move west through Groveton to pressure the areas that will be hardest for him to reinforce. Elsewhere, I decide to start assaulting the defenders in Sudley Springs not matter how long it takes. Without flanking pressure from the North, my offensive force might become surrounded from three sides.

Playtest Game NION: 10am Union


Playtest Game NION: 10am Confederate

10am Confederate

Can't find much fault with the way the USA is covering its advance. Too bad for me.
A rude surprise for Brian at Sudley Springs, as he now knows it will hurt to get past my defense with a veteran infantry.
I win the race to my line of communications south of Groveton. Still too little there to mount a long term defense, so I begin (slowly) to catch up. Again, my largest force in the north is out of command and paralyzed as the CSA HQ staff scrambles.



11am Union

The Union offensive continues to advance. I have numerical superiority at two important approaches. I must cause losses of attrition to the CSA defenders in order maximize this advantage. The double-wide approach at 149/154 might present an opportunity. It really depends on how Andy responds to an advance command. He might have enough strength to repel me; he might not. I take advantage of my cavalry in the area to take up screening positions. If Andy over commits in 154, then I might be able to commence a cavalry charge against them to devastating effect.

Playtest Game NION: 11am Union


Playtest Game NION: 11am Confederate

11am Confederate

I don't feel too badly just now, as the confusing road network now stalls the USA advance options just a little north and east of New Market. I set up my west flank defense (even though it is still a little weaker than I would like), bring my northern army down, and begin to cover the whole CSA line-of-communication with credible force.
I am also ahead in morale, with the USA southeast flank still vulnerable to more casualties. Not too bad.



12pm Union

I press my southwestern attack. The Confederates are moving towards my vulnerable rear. I desperately swing around my cavalry screen and deploy them to try pin down some units. Now I am really nervous. I want to freeze some of the CSA units from sliding west so a start a threat towards the middle of the Confederate position at 134.

Playtest Game NION: 12pm Union


Playtest Game NION: 12pm Confederate

12pm Confederate

USA gathers it strength and prepares, expending only 4 commands this turn.
CSA brings in some more reinforcements, and now have advantage east of New Market. Maneuvers to bring the battle to a head. Now having to face those two artillery that spooked me off of the Stone Bridge in the early morning. Whose noose is tightening?



1pm Union

Union forces have finally taken Sudley Springs and I need their support immediately. I have to rescue my efforts in the southwest, so I send my other cavalry unit into gap. I also pull two units off the line to form a rearguard. Another problem is that I have lost the initiative and now Andy is dictating the action.

Playtest Game NION: 1pm Union


Playtest Game NION: 1pm Confederate

1pm Confederate

USA finally clears Sudley Springs and undertakes some deft maneuvering to give some rear support to his position south of Groveton.
I try to solve it from location 143 with my large force north of Groveton, but all I get is the whiff of horse... damn! That cavalry is now in Groveton, and it will be a problem getting it out of there.
I retain my veteran infantry to prepare for the force soon to come down from Sudley Springs, and set up a trap for the advance US brigade east of New Market, but suddenly I don't feel so good. My morale is dipped again, though I still have some casualties to inflict and the USA has most of the burden of attack.



2pm Union

Ugh, the Union is in trouble everywhere at once. My group at Sudley Springs is bottled up again and I have no time to wait to fight every unit that gets in their way. I will try to swing around the blocking cavalry. I pondered my moves at Groveton for quite awhile. I need a solution that is effective without risking too much morale if it fails. I decide to move my last cavalry unit into the town since it can quickly move to support nearly all of the endangered approaches in the vicinity. My threat near 134 was poorly planned and may back-fire. I could lose a significant amount of morale there. I need to maintain a 3 to 4 morale lead over Andy if I want to be able to finish the game using assault commands.

Playtest Game NION: 2pm Union


Playtest Game NION: 2pm Confederate

2pm Confederate

Hmmm... the USA is exploiting its unit advantage near Groveton. I am getting bombarded, and Brian shows me why I should have advanced in force into location 148 last turn.
Thus, I am beginning to get very uncomfortable with my casualties. I push the US back from location 131 east of New Market and shore up the defense in location 151 south of Groveton. I still have the tactical advantage in the southeast flank that will be good for a couple of US casualties. Can I hold on?



3pm Union

I am forced to withdrawal from 131, losing 2 morale in the process. I consider myself lucky; it might have been worse. I see an opportunity to charge my cavalry against unsupported artillery and I take it. The Sudley attack group is now exerting pressure and giving Andy something to think about.

Playtest Game NION: 3pm Union


Playtest Game NION: 3pm Confederate

3pm Confederate

Ugh, vulnerable artillery. Another good exploitation by Brian of a past decision that seemed pragmatic at the time. Note to self: Don't leave artillery unsupported. It is now looking truly bad for me, and with the CSA morale at 4, there is not too much to go.
One gambit I have had going is hiding artillery in 151 waiting for Brian to assault there. I am now supporting the location (finally) with a second artillery to take the sting off the continuing bombardment that my gambit has accrued. We'll see, but I frankly did not count on shedding so much morale elsewhere in the battlefield.



4pm Union

Andy does a nice job keeping his infantry units (which were in 143 at 3 pm) from being isolated. However, the CSA morale is dangerously low and I see an opportunity to drain Andy of 1 morale without costing me any. (Morale preservation is paramount in the late game). I play 6 commands this turn to coordinate an encircling maneuver around the isolated Confederate cavalry in 122.

Playtest Game NION: 4pm Union


Playtest Game NION: 4pm Confederate

4pm Confederate

Again, the location 148 north of Groveton proves to be better understood by Brian than by me. Furthermore, he has isolated my cavalry from all hope of return with the Confederates near the breaking point of morale.
In the way of retribution, I spring my traps south of Groveton (Brian finally assaulted where my artillery lay in wait) and resolve the southeast flank, but there is too little too late, I fear – he is still ahead on morale 3 to 2, and will take me down to 1 morale by destroying the cavalry. It seems my only hope is that the units remaining in the approaches on 149 and 150 are weak, to the extent that both have one step infantry.



5pm Union

The surrounded CSA cavalry is forced to surrender. Afterwards, I have just enough morale to make a game ending assault into the fiercely contested 150/151 approach.

To this Andy responded:
A veteran infantry attack seals the deal. Well played Brian!

Playtest Game NION: 5pm Union



Union Summary

The hyper-aggressive Union strategy proved to be a valid approach – strong but not at all overpowered. Andy's economical defense of Sudley Springs demonstrates a great way to counter the sheer number of units that the USA can commit to the western flank without having to match it unit for unit.
One of the most interesting (and surprising) developments in this game was when Andy decided to completely abandon Stone Bridge. I had planned my entire attack with certain assumptions of what the CSA would do given my setup. I found myself with free access to the turnpike, but with the wrong types of units. This situation led to a fluid battlefield with fascinating consequences.
I love that Baptism at Bull Run allows conflict anywhere on the map. Each time I play, the action is concentrated at a different location. This fact also keeps any pre-game strategy dynamic because you never know where you are going to need to be strong or where the forces are going to clash.

Confederate Summary

In reviewing this game, I am actually pretty happy with my choice to recede away from the Stone Bridge early in the game, given the Union thrust. I could have considered faster ways, however, to get Confederate troops to where they needed to be once I made that choice.
One vagary that I should better appreciate in future games is the extent to which the terrain (approaches, road network, etc.) should dictate action – I think I focused too much on the opposing units. Of course, it is in the information and style of the terrain where the Simmons system really can shine... it was one of the precepts in creating the linear warfare style and look.
More generally, I was always scrambling to get out of a bad position through the game. I think Brian did a better job in building in contingency into his actions, so it is no surprise his Union army took the day in this light.


Playtest Game NION: 5pm Union (end-of-game)

Playtest Game NION: 5pm Union (end-of-game)


Released: 2009-01-18 18:45 EST


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Copyright © 2008-2011. László Á. Koller. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution prohibited.
Pencil & Wash Drawing: "Colonel Burnside's brigade, First and Second Rhode Island, and Seventy-first New York regiments, with their artillery, attacking the rebel batteries at Bull Run.", by Alfred R. Waud (1861).