By Judd Vance
Germantown is a hex-and-counter war game for 2 players. The game only has one scenario, and it takes about 2-3 hours to play. Mark Miklos and Bill Madison designed it and GMT published it in 2010.
The game simulates the October 4, 1777 battle at Germantown, PA, outside of Philadelphia. That fall, the British had managed to successfully march on the American capital of Philadelphia after defeating the Continental Army at the battle of Brandywine Creek. British General William Howe bivouacked about 9,000 troops outside of Philadelphia at Germantown. American General George Washington had about 11,000 troops (continental regulars and militia) and was determined to execute a surprise attack on the British and Hessians. His plan called for a complex coordinated 4-pronged attack. However, this was too difficult for an untrained army, combined with bad directions and thick fog, resulted in General Nathanael Greene’s column arriving 30 minutes late.
The thick fog on the morning of the 4th created difficulty for the American troops, but also masked their advance. General Sullivan’s column quickly overran the British light infantry, who ran for cover in the Chew House, a large stone mansion. Believing the Americans were giving no quarter after the Paoli massacre, the British reinforced the lower entry points and put their best marksman on the upper floor.
The Americans could not take it quickly, and rather than go around it, Washington followed bad advice from General Henry Knox, and devoted too many troops to trying to take it. The American cannons could not penetrate the walls and attempts to storm the house resulted in carnage. To make matters worse, Major-General Adam Stephen was drunk, and when he heard shooting coming from the west, he ordered his troops to advance in that direction. General Anthony Wayne halted his progress and turned around when he heard shots behind him. He feared Sullivan’s division was in trouble, and went back to rescue him, and he arrived at the same time as Stephen’s troops. The thick fog created a friendly-fire catastrophe and panic.
On another front, Colonel George Matthew’s regiment had so much success that they went far behind the enemy lines before running out of ammunition and getting captured.
The American plan was bold and daring, but a few bad circumstances and decisions resulted in a defeat. Most of the troops escaped the battlefield and remained in high spirits because they had fought so bravely and well. They had come a long way since 12 months before, when they were routed in New York and chased across the New Jersey countryside.
Like the other games in this series, this game comes with two black-and-white rulebooks, both 8.5″ x 11″. One rulebook is the series rulebook, which explains the mechanics and rules common to all of the games in the series. The second rulebook is an exclusive rulebook. It contains 7 pages of rules specific to this game, along with a counter inventory and historical background. The rules are well-illustrated and clearly explained with plenty of examples.
The map is an attractive 22″ x 34″ full color paper map that displays the battlefield with a numbered hexagonal grid laid over the map. The map also contains various tables (fog and Stephen’s random marching directions), along with a turn chart and a morale tracker and boxes for placing captured and eliminated counters.
The game includes 176 1/2″ cardboard counters representing various leaders, armies, dragoon, and artillery units, along with counters seen in many of the other games in this series: such as counters for pinned, disrupted, and shattered units, along with markers for turn and fog, and momentum chits. The counters are attractive with an attention to detail. Typical of the games in this series, this includes a few counters for one of the earlier games — in this case, Brandywine, where a few counters have been updated to correct uniform specs.
Along with the tactics chits used in this series, this game also offers cards with the same tactics.
The game also includes a pair of double-sided charts (one for each player), and the rules for using tactics chits in solitaire play.
Objective of Play:
Each of the games in this series offers conditions of victory at various levels, such as a decisive victory, substantial victory, and marginal victory. These usually involve eliminating a certain number of strength points, and/or capturing certain hexes, or could be obtained by demoralizing the morale of the opposing army. This game is no different. In this case, the key hexes are the Chew House, the Market Square, and the edge of the map (the road to Philadelphia).
Overview of Play:
If you have played any of the games in this series, then you know how to play 90% of this game. The basic game turn consists of:
- Fog Check: on certain turns, check for the density level of the fog.
- Stephen’s Movement: Roll a die and move Stephen’s units the maximum amount in that direction.
- Friendly Fire Check: if Stephen’s units end up in the same hex or adjacent to another American unit, roll on the friendly fire table. If friendly fire occurs, this step no longer occurs, but panic occurs among those units.
- Movement Phase: Rules are the same as the series rules with the exception of movement in dense fog.
- Rally Phase: any disrupted, shattered, or panicked units may attempt to rally.
Rifle Phase: Same as the series rules.
- Defensive Artillery Fire Phase: same as series rules, except a part of the game has been abstracted to show the American militia bombardment across the Schuylkill River. If any British/Hessian units are in a certain region of the map, then the Americans fire on the artillery chart.
- Close combat Phase: Series rules apply, but there are new rules for the American vanguard’s surprise attacks, General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s units seeking revenge for the Paoli massacre, and special units that act as a mix of musket and rifle regiments.
- Check for victory conditions.
This game works as well as the others in the series. By this point, if you have played the others, you know what you are getting: the mechanics and tactics are solid. You know to always leave your retreat paths open and never let the enemy get your units into a semi-surrounded position, where your units may retreat into their zone-of-control (automatic capture).
Some may be turned off by the game having one scenario. To me, this has never been an issue. We all play war games because we want to see if we could do things better or worse. With that said, there are many “what ifs” to try in this game. They come via house rules, but are certainly worth investigating. For instance:
- What if there was no fog or what if there was only light fog on that day?
- What if the four American columns actually converged at the same time?
- What if Stephen had not been drunk?
- What if Washington had ignored Knox’ advice and by-passed the Chew House?
And speaking of the Chew House, I disagree with the rule that says it is worth 1 VP to the British player if he holds it at the end of the game. The result is that the American player, like Washington, will waste forces trying to take it. However, it had no strategic significance, and the rule appears to be there to create a more realistic simulation. However, I believe it should be an optional rule.
As for the tactic chits, it is nice that the rules for solitaire play are there, but I have never liked them and refuse to use them. To me, they are nothing but “rock-paper-scissors” in order to gain a die roll modifier, and require no special skill other than out-guessing your opponent (kind of like playing a game of Battleship). The die creates enough variability without this unnecessary guessing game/time-waster. I guess it’s a matter of personal preference, and the tactics do follow those used in 18th century warfare, but I find the tactics used in We the People Battle Cards to be a better teaching tool.
Before I even ordered the game, I knew I was going to like it, so I was not disappointed. The bigger question is: how does it compare to the others in the series and should you buy it?
I have played five of the seven games in the series. I own Savannah, but have not played it yet. I do not own Pensacola (call me funny, but I want the Continental Army in my American Revolution game, not the Spanish vs. British). With that said, I rate them this way:
- Monmouth – large counter density, C+C breakdown table, and wide-open space creates the most variability from game to game. This battle is the most balanced between the two sides. I rate it a 10.
- Germantown – Wide open battlefield and rules for Stephen’s shame, friendly fire, and panic create the second most variability. The Americans actually have the advantage in troop strength.
- Brandywine – Multiple entry points at the Brandywine river creates a level of variability, but not nearly as much as Monmouth or Germantown, and ultimately, the Americans are going to lose: the British just have too many numbers. I rate it a 9.
- Saratoga – The big question in this game is when will Gates’ wing release? It’s a great game, but every game is pretty much the same: a slugfest at Freeman’s Farm. While this is historical, it’s not as fun as the others listed ahead of it. I rate it a solid 8.
- Guilford – Low counter density makes this one the ideal one to start with, (if you have the choice), in order to learn the mechanics. The battles tend to be a bit lop-sided, though. I rate it a 7.
The second question is the easier question: if you have tried the other games in the series, your answer is already determined. If you like them, you will like this. If you have never played any of them, then yes, you should give it a try. These games are excellent at portraying 18th century European battlefield tactics. The system is tried and true for 12 years. If you like hex-and-counter war games, then this is right up your alley. While I often recommend Guilford as a good starter game in the series, it is out-of-print and expensive. So with that said, this is as good of a place as any to start in this excellent series. The first couple of plays may be confusing, as you go back to the rulebook for clarification a lot. Also, it takes a bit of playing before the combat becomes intuitive, because the DRMs count for a lot more than the odds, and gains/losses in morale are paramount.
Overall, this is an excellent addition to an excellent series. I am tempted to give it a 10, because to me, it is significantly better than Brandywine, which is a solid 9. A more accurate rating would be 9.5, but I don’t do fractional ratings, so for now, I’ll stick with the 9, and see if it stands the test of time.
To learn more about the game and other games by the same company, visit their website: http://www.gmtgames.com/