Michael Eckenfels, 18 February 2021 ~ #UnboxingDay
When I was a wee lad (a lot wee’er than I am now, anyway), I got to see the Little Bighorn Battlefield. This was probably 1977 or ’78 or so, and there wasn’t a lot there other than the stone monument with the names of the dead 7th Cavalry men that had charged blindly into history with their leader, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Most of you are familiar with the tale; if you’d like to see it as it stands now, there are tons of videos on YouTube of tours across the battle site, plus there’s this link to the National Park Service’s official site for this battlefield.
There are 11 games that, as of this writing, pop up on BGG when you enter the search term “Custer.” A lot of the results don’t seem like they are full recreations of those fateful days in June of 1876, but what do I know; I’ve not played nor looked at them. Worthington Games’ title, though, caught my eye often over the last year, not the least of reasons being that visit from so many years ago. Everything about the game looked pretty solid, and I had bought Worthington Games’ other title, Antietam, several months back – a splendid game in and of itself. I was eager to give this a try, so thanks to a good Christmas, I was able to get a hold of a copy from the publisher.
click images to enlarge
I absolutely love the cover. The title taking up the entire space is different, bold, and really catches the eye. It is exactly what Custer would love, I think. It’s not like I knew the guy personally or anything, but I’ve read a couple of books on him. He loved attention and no doubt would have been quite happy with any game covering his life – the ending of which was probably not all that cool by him, admittedly.
The back of the box has some nice art; the bottom depicting an artist’s recreation of the battle, a frozen, paint-endowed abstract of a moment of absolute chaos. The counters sharply contrast with that, and I do like the color scheme they went with for all sides. And the maps look great – simple, with just enough detail to be engrossing but not enough to be overwhelming.
Upon opening the box top, we’re greeted with the rules. Worthington did some good rules for Antietam in that they were very short (eight pages, I believe), and the layout of these looks very similar. The design and background, with earthy colors, makes them even more endearing.
The rules have quite a few color examples, so it’s not all text, which means this should be a quick and easy read, thankfully.
There’s a lot of terrain variations in this game, and a lot of examples to help make it clear.
The Playbook is a separate booklet that details scenario start-ups for both scenarios. Yep, you read that right – if you were not aware, this isn’t just about the Battle of the Little Bighorn. It also includes the Battle of Rosebud Creek, which occurred about nine or so days before its more famous cousin. At the Rosebud, the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians managed to blunt General George Crook’s column. You see, the entire campaign was centered on three columns – General Crook’s, I believe, was advancing from the south; General Gibbon advanced from the west; and General Terry and Lt. Col. Custer advanced from the east. Crook’s self-proclaimed victory was belied by the fact that he retreated to his camp where he remained for several weeks, waiting for reinforcements.
Getting back to the components (ahem), there’s actually two playbooks, which is interesting. I’m not sure why Worthington would include two playbooks with one rulebook. What’s interesting is, I also bought a copy of Victoria Cross II, which had two rulebooks inside. Go figure.
There are also a pair of summary cards that I like, especially the one that lays out the warriors facing off against 7th Cavalry. Very nice design.
The counters are quite good. They’re large, thick, have slightly rounded corners, and the color designs are striking. The sharp yellows showing off the U.S. cavalrymen and their leaders really stands out well, while the brown shades for the Native American warriors give them a part-of-the-earth, nature-type feel. It’s subtle, and maybe not what the designers were intending, but it’s quite striking and strong.
A close-up of some of the counters and the leaders. There are a few Custers in the game, because Custer had two brothers and a nephew that followed their Colonel into oblivion that day.
The Native American counters aren’t all designed the same, and a few of them are quite striking too, sharply countering the darker tones with bright red. I like the overall design, too, with a band at the top and bottom and a different color running across the middle.
Here is the map of the Little Bighorn battlefield. It’s not very large and fits on my game table very well, which is most welcome. It also likely means games will be sharp, powerful battles.
A close-up of the ravines running north off of the Little Bighorn River. The ‘Battle Ridge’ landmark is the approximate area where Custer and his detachment were wiped out. It’s said they retreated there after trying to cross the river, but were surprised with insurmountable numbers and beat a hasty retreat – too little, too late, though.
The info on the map is in large print and easy to read, another good design choice (by me, anyway).
A close-up of the Game Track as well as Activations. Interestingly, this game goes by a chit pull system, which makes it extremely suitable for solitaire play.
And, the Rosebud Creek map, which is on the opposite side of this nice mounted board. I’m not as familiar with this battle and did a bit of reading on it, too; I’d highly recommend you check it out if you’ve not done so and have an interest in the Little Bighorn battle.
Here’s a close-up of the track on the Rosebud Creek side of the map.
The starting positions for the U.S. forces on the Rosebud Creek map.
And another close-up of the Rosebud Creek map, showing terrain features. Maybe you’re more familiar with these than I.
And finally, in the box is an insert that doesn’t get in the way, a baggie with lots of other baggies (most welcome, as always, from any game designer), and a pair ‘o d10 dice.
From the reading I’ve done and the videos I’ve watched, I’m quite enthralled with this title (as you no doubt have seen from this article), so I greatly look forward to playing this one soon.
Thanks for joining this month’s #UnboxingDay with the Armchair Dragoons and we hope you enjoyed our recon of our recent acquisitions.
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