There are so many American Civil War games on the market it has become almost as crowded as the World War II topics! In 2018 alone Longstreet Attacks, Atlanta is Outs, Roads to Gettysburg II, Battle Hymn Vol. I, and Hood’s Last Gamble have found their way from publishers to gamer’s tables. It truly is an embarrassment of riches given how well received these games have been. Each continues either a current popular series like Great Battles of the American Civil War from Multi-Man Publishing or reinvents one like Battle Hymn from Compass Games has done with the Across Five Aprils release from Victory Games almost 30 years ago. Each game brings a unique look at a battle or campaign with well refined rules and seemingly strong play-testing. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Thunder in the Ozarks a Blind Swords game from Hermann Luttmann and Revolution Games.
I’ve been most impressed with the Blind Swords system that powers Hermann Luttmann’s Longstreet Attacks in 2018 (as well as At Any Cost: Metz 1890 from GMT Games). Instead of starting at the end, I already had Thunder in the Ozarks and Stonewall’s Sword which preceded Longstreet’s release. I have to say that Blind Swords might be the best American Civil War tactical series in terms of sheer fun.
The rules are not overwhelming. They do, however, present a lot of nuance that creates some particularly thorny decisions for players. While much has been said about chit-pull mechanic games I have to say that appreciating Blind Swords, and Thunder in the Ozarks (TitO hereafter) requires a closer look. I enjoy reading American Civil War books and I’m struck by how common it is for the narrative description to invoke the relationship between various units as they move into each other’s proximity. To date, this has been handled by savvy players and rulesets that strongly imply why and when you should move units at the tactical level. Blind Swords, on the other hand, outright provides the requirement.
One example of this is artillery which must move when other units move within 2 hexes of the artillery meaning that you cannot order your artillery to remain in obvious harm’s way in order to get off a dying canister shot because the column shifts are favorable. You can receive a charge, but it must be an attack rather than a reckless defensive sacrifice. Cavalry receives their customary ability to escape, but what I like is that transitioning from mounted to unmounted both offers the adversary a chance at opportunity fire AND the cavalry unit becomes an infantry unit for nearly all purposes. I’m not so sure that these are revolutionary concepts, but taken in whole with the rest of the game they feel substantial and provide meat to a relatively light-to-medium weight wargame.
One of the things I lauded in my review of Battle Hymn Volume I was that combat felt significantly bloody. Your choices carried weight and how you chose to expend units in the pursuit of your objectives was a key tension throughout the game. Thunder in the Ozarks has the same weight to the choices. The low counter density and paucity of “strong” units coupled with solid stacking rules means that players have to adapt their offensive and defensive strategies accordingly.
In my first play, I was most concerned with creating a long “un-flankable” line, but learned quickly that this can be a recipe for defeat in detail. Instead, TitO forces you to adapt to the terrain and read the chokepoints at least semi-competently. I, of course, lack these skills but can certainly appreciate the way the game presents the relationship between terrain and units.
Final Thought About Combat Results
The centerpiece of the system, at least for me, isn’t the chit pull or brutality of the combat. The game is, as a whole, easily recognizable faire, but where I think it truly sets itself apart is in the way the game presents the combat results. I like the idea that you’re not necessarily escaping results, your units are tested to varying degrees of intensity. Further, the differentiation between close combat and fire combat to deal with the various outcomes rather than as a unified outcome that only applies additional column shifts or die roll modifiers makes this a lot more fun.
The intensity of the result you must check is then combined with dice rolls that represent your losses and your retreat result. Again, the separation does a lot to make the combat more transparent which is greatly appreciated. I’ll dive into this a bit more in my review (coming soon). Blind Swords is a not just a good system, but a great one and I clearly love this game!