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Advanced Optional Rules and House Rules


So, you still want to know a little more about the Optional Rules? You have come to the right place. Here we will cover them in greater detail and show you how they relate to one another and work together to create a better gaming experience. We will also cover what are considered “House Rules” and how they will affect you in the ACWGC. 


Q: Why aren’t the Optional Rules called Advanced Rules?


A: The primary reason for having Optional Rules is twofold. First, Optional Rules are intended to provide some variety to game play. As such, they are intended to put a new twist on familiar situations and keep the game interesting. Second, Optional Rules are intended to provide an outlet for disagreements over how certain issues are to be approached. That is, rather than debate an issue to death, an Optional Rule is often provided so that differing viewpoints are supported in the game, even if they are not agreed to by 100% of the user population. Given this intention, Optional Rules should never be confused with Advanced Rules which are intended to provide more realism or detail but at a sacrifice of playability or simplicity. An Optional Rule could conceivably reduce realism or detail as long as it provided some interesting variety into the game or provided a useful simplification that improved playability under certain circumstances.


Let us start by, once again, displaying the Optional Rules on the board.



Optional Rules Dialog

The Optional Rules Dialog is used to view and select the Optional Rules for a new battle. Optional Rules can be set at the beginning of a battle, but not changed once the battle has started. The Optional Rules selected in the Optional Rules Dialog are saved and become the subsequent default for new battles.


I am going to discuss them as groups since most rules need to be paired with others to work properly. Also, this helps balance out how they affect the game since some rules favor the defender and some the attacker. Also, some rules, while optional, were added to fix very real problems and should not be optional.


First are the ones involved with "Turn" based play versus "Phased" play.

In "Phased" play you have part of the turn separated into distinct phases consisting of a Movement Phase, Defensive Fire Phase, Offensive Fire Phase and a Melee Phase. "Turn" based play was first introduced with the HPS games and consists of just a single player phase in which all movement, fire and melees are executed by the current player while the game’s A/I handles the other player's defensive fire as a type of opportunity fire. The very first optional rule, the poorly named "Manual Defensive Fire", is the one that selects this. If ‘Checked’ the game is played in Phases, if ‘Unchecked’ it is played Turn based.


When you play "Phased" with option 1 on there is one rule that works perfectly in conjunction with it - Rule 18 - Automated Defensive Fire. This will let the A/I handle the opponent's defensive fire. It only works in "Phased" play since in "Turn" this is how all Defensive Fire is handled regardless of the setting. The main reason for using it is that in PBEM it cuts out a whole set of emails halving the time it takes to play a game. In other words it is a necessary evil when playing by mail, so use it.


Commentary: “Turn” based play or “Phased” based play? Small digital tree forests have been used up debating this. With the addition of Optional Rule 18 the argument for “Phased” based play is stronger than ever. The advantage is that defenders fire at 100% effectiveness during the automated defensive fire phase conducted by the A/I. In “Turn” based play the A/I may fire more often as an enemy approaches (or may not as it depends on a roll of the dice) and may disrupt an enemy unit before it can advance right up against your lines. But the downside to this is that the firing is not always automatically triggered by the Opportunity Fire A/I system and that Opportunity Fire is done at only 50% effectiveness to make up for the potentially more frequent firing. Because the Club has been using “Turn” based playing for so long most Members are more comfortable with that style. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the rule to see if you prefer one style over the other.


In "Turn" based play the connected optional rules (12, 20, and 25) were added to fix a very serious problems with this style of play. I highly recommend you use all three, first, an explanation of the problem with "Turn" play.  Because of the combined combat and movement in "Turn" play regiments became virtual tanks able to make breakthroughs, surround, overrun, and conduct highly coordinated attacks that, for all practical purposes, look like WWII blitzkrieg tactics rather than Civil War combat. This was all compounded by the very thing that was supposed to negate it - Opportunity Fire. It was hoped that to limit units moving in front of enemy lines without any restrictions that Opportunity Fire (meaning the A/I firing repeatedly at units as they move rather than during a separate Defensive Fire Phase) would create a strong incentive against such blitzkrieg tactics. The problem was the Opportunity Fire was halved in value to compensate for it being possible to fire more than once. This, coupled with a very dim witted A/I, often firing at ranges that mostly wasted ammo rather than injured the enemy, made Opportunity Fire far too weak to be much of a deterrent to blitz tactics.


We now turn back to the three optional rules added to address this issue. The first one, 12 - Optional Melee Resolution, tries to fix the blitzkrieg tendency by separating the Melee resolution out of the combined movement/combat phase making it a wholly separate phase. This means you can move and shoot to your heart's content but you have to end your movement/combat phase before going to the phase to resolve melees. No longer can you try to melee a couple of critical enemy units in the enemy line hoping they will retreat and open a hole for you to push a division through to surround the units on either side. Second, 20 - Full Melee Defensive Fire, was added to address the dissatisfaction some had with defensive fire being halved even in the face of an oncoming melee. With this rule an automated defensive fire against a melee would be done at 100% effectiveness. Lastly, 25 - Proportional Opportunity Fire, was added to correct another problem in Turn play. You could not fire small stacks or units because it might trigger massive retaliation by all nearby enemy units. This rule reduces the probability of this happening.


The next group of related rules, 2 and 3, which are the Optional Fire Results and Optional Melee Results rules, just take some of the randomness out of combat by using the average of two die rolls to come up with the casualties instead of one. This one is a personal choice. If you are one of those players that swears he rolls snake eyes every time when things are critical you might want this one on. My preference is using it because, really, why not remove some randomness from life?


The next group of rules (4, 6, and 14) I recommend using together because they give leaders a more critical role in the game. Rule 4, Quality Fire Modifier, gives a 10% bonus in firing effectiveness to units rated an A or B in quality while subtracting 10% from units with a rating of E or F. Coupling this same principle with rule 14, Quality Melee Modifier, increases the effectiveness of attacking units based on quality. How does this effect leaders then? Because one way to keep your units holding strong or moving forward is to keep them within command range of their officers. Having an officer in the same hex as an attacking unit or defending unit also increases their melee power or defense by 10%. The rule which makes this a risky idea (having officers in the front lines) is rule 6, Victory Points for Leader Casualties. Your opponent may benefit from your boldness by incapacitating one of your leaders for the battle and thus earn some extra Victory Points. It’s all about risk vs. reward here.


Fatigue and recovery rates are covered by rules 5 and 9. Rule 5, Higher Fatigue Recovery Rates, is the much more controversial one. I highly recommend it, and here is why. It forces players to plan and manage their unit fatigue. The player that does a better job of pulling regiments out of the line of battle before they hit high fatigue and providing for their resting will beat a player that just fights them until they can't fight any more. This rule generally only affects longer games, more than one day, because night recovery rates are high enough for units to completely recover from fatigue if they haven't been over fought during the day. Without the rule being checked there is very little chance of a medium fatigued unit recovering sufficiently to even justify pulling them out of line to rest so we tend to fight every man to his last breath rather than rest troops. Rule 9, Night Movement Fatigue, is a brutal one but a necessary one. This one was created to address the unhistorical problem of our troops making all night marches after fighting all day with no apparent affect. This option adds fatigue, usually 50 per turn, to discourage this. On top of this you add the Night Attack Penalty included by default in the game of 250 fatigue points (check the parameter data for exact numbers in your scenario) and there is every reason in the world to let your men sleep most of the night and not to engage in combat.


The next group isn't strictly related but I put them together but there is a certain synergy from using them together. These are rules 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, and 19 and have to do with the forming of lines and the surrounding of units. The reason I put them together is they all address two gamey but effective tactics used in these games. First, the alternating defensive line strategy, where huge stacks are placed in every other hex making an indestructible wall of defenders. And, second, the raiding unit who can't be corralled or destroyed wreaking havoc behind your lines. Using the rules together helps moderate some of the gamey tactics players have learned over the years. So I recommend the use of them together.


To start, rule 16 Weak Zone-of-Control, is the critical one that triggers the need for the others. Originally the battleground games had a strong ZOC built in by default. This means that a unit cannot from an enemy controlled hex (to their front or flank) into a neighboring hex also under the enemy ZOC. This quickly taught players the every-other-hex strategy of over-stacking units a hex apart to create a strong wall of defenders without a fear that the enemy would slip through the open fields on either flank of them. Hardly historical. Meanwhile, the stacks were so large that they were hardly assailable without heavy losses. Turning on rule 16 limits the usefulness of the alternating hex strategy. The rule allows units to move from an enemy controlled ZOC into another enemy controlled ZOC (albeit using every available Movement Point to do so). The alternating hex strategy then can only be used if the defender is willing to retreat each turn to keep adjacent units from slipping around them. Now the defender has a reason to make continuous lines that look a lot more like what you would see on a Civil War battlefield.


Now though you have created some new problems. One of the things the alternating defense line fixed was the tendency of continuous lines to rout in mass because of the adjacent rout check rules. To compensate for this you need rule 7, Rout Limiting, to allow the defender to form lines without risking having his whole army rout off the field due to one rout check starting a domino effect. Another related consequence of a weak ZOC is that while the defender can no longer strictly use the alternating hexes with heavy stacks strategy the attacker has no such limitations on how large their oncoming stacks are. As a result we created rule 8, Density Fire Modifier, to punish the attacker for over-stacking his attack forces. This rule, essentially, creates more casualties when hexes are so filled with men that a shot in their ranks could hardly miss. Rule 17, Partial Retreats, also comes in here to help compensate for the advantages gained by the attacker allowing units losing the melee to not get killed by over-stacking problems. Rule 19, the Flank Morale Modifier, helps reward the use of continuous lines by giving a morale boost to units with supports on their flank during a melee. And, lastly, you have the really nasty one, 15, Isolation Rules. Once you have a weak ZOC you need deterrent to keep the enemy from using small units to cause hell behind your lines by slipping through units sent to corral them. A hard ZOC made them easy to isolate and wipe out but now it takes a whole brigade to surround and kill one unit regardless of its size (even if it’s only 25 men). If left to run wild they can destroy your rear areas so you need a rule that allows them to be surrounded and removed quickly. That is what the isolation rule does. Units that get separated from their main forces are going to defend at quarter strength once isolated. Usually this will force your opponent not to sacrifice good units to try a raid behind your lines with singular units.


Artillery has always been an ugly stepchild in the gaming system handled by a lot of rules that were better made for infantry and cavalry than artillery. This led to three new options (22, 23 & 24) that tried to improve things with mixed results. I recommend them with some reservations:

Artillery Capture (22) – In the older versions of these games a captured artillery unit simply vanished into thin air once overran. Players thoroughly hated this completely historically inaccurate phenomenon. This rule was created to remedy that by allowing captured pieces to be re-crewed by the side occupying the hex and turned on their former owners. What could be better, right? The problem was it threw off the Victory Points gained for the capture. If you destroyed a gun by fire you got the full Victory Points for it immediately and never had to worry again. But if you captured it you had to garrison the guns hex forever if you wanted those Victory Points. You could spike the guns so the other side could not get them back but this costs you half their Victory Point value to do. If you wanted full Victory Points you had to sit a regiment on top of them and hold them until the end of the scenario. If you had enough ammo you could roll up a battery behind it and shoot it but this favored the side with the most ammo (Union). Also, because the Union usually has more units, they could more easily spare a regiment to guard a hex even long after the battle had moved to another part of the battlefield. For us Rebels it is usually preferable to just play with the rule unchecked and deal with the “vanishing” captured guns while enjoying the immediate and permanent boon of the Victory Points associated with their capture. 

Artillery Retire by Prolonge (23) - was added because this was a tactic commonly used during the Civil War. It adds a nice flavor to the games but can only be used to move unlimbered guns from one clear hex to another directly behind it.

Artillery Ammo by Cannon (24) - this one I consider a must have rule. It fixes probably the worst flaw in the game system and for sure in the artillery handling. Originally a six-gun unit would expend one round of artillery ammo while another one-gun unit would expend the same one artillery round. In reality a large Federal battery would then be getting five free shells while our one gun being fired in reply accounted for the same expenditure of total ammo as theirs did. Brutally unfair. With the addition of this rule it changes the ammo expenditure to account for each gun in a battery being fired rather than counting the firing battery as one singular firing instance. This allows the player to use his one-gun sections as effective units rather than ammo wasters. No game should be played without this one on.


Now for a bunch of rules that just fixed flaws in the game system. I recommend all of these be used.

Mounted Cavalry Skirmishers (10) - was created so cavalry wouldn't run into enemy units blindly and not be able to disengage. It allows cavalry to act better in its role of scouts and delayers. It deploys a two hex cavalry screen directly in front of mounted cavalry as they move.

Higher Disrupted Movement (11) - was added to help the defender retreat. Older versions of the games heavily favored the attacker and it was almost impossible for even a relatively large force to make a fighting withdrawal since once a unit was disrupted it was reduced to just half its usual movement points. This rule was added to fix this by reducing the movement points of disrupted units by just one-quarter.

Alternate Fixed Unit Release (13) - was added to keep players from gaming against the fixed units by moving around them in such a way as to not release them even though they were always in plain sight. Consequently, players also could check the scenario and find where the fixed units were so they could avoid them until they were surrounded and easy to capture. The five hex “halo” rule makes this much harder by triggering a release if the enemy moves within that range.

Bridge Limit and Repairing (21) - is another enhancement of the game giving the player ability to repair destroyed bridges. It also limits the type of units that can cross until the bridge is fully repaired.

Mixed Organization Penalty (26) - this rule was created to enforce a -1 morale modifier to units in the same hex with units from different brigades. Players seeking to enforce unit integrity pushed for this for a long time. As a Rebel I hate this rule since we are usually trying to fill gaps with whatever units we can during battles. But the Yankees will insist upon it so we make concessions.

Extreme Fog of War (27) - When Extreme Fog of War is in effect, the visibility highlight only displays from friendly occupied hexes.  Also, for enemy units in obscuring terrain (e.g., Forest), enemy force counts will only display as XXX instead of, for example, 3XX.


House Rules

Now that we have covered the Advanced Optional Rules let us turn to the House Rules which are also a part of the ACWGC.

House Rules means those created before the start of a scenario and agreed upon by all the participants. Members vary greatly as to their willingness to play with, or without, House Rules. My experience is that most Members are happy to consider any reasonable House Rule suggested. For instance, some players loathe “death stacks,” which are loosely defined as rolling battalions of artillery in hexes sweeping forward. Some Members will request limiting artillery batteries to two per hex to avoid this. Another House Rule may be not allowing more than one or two regiments per hex. Yet another, and this is one I am actually very fond of, is a House Rule ending any game in which one side or the other has taken 35% casualties and awarding the victory to the army still “intact.” My personal reasoning is that any Civil War army taking even 30% losses was almost unheard of and would likely have caused massive morale issues and defections from the field of battle. This House Rule can act as a major deterrent to the tendency of some players to play until every last man and gun are used up in a battle of attrition (which the Rebs usually lose). In the end though you need to discuss any House Rules at the start of the game with your opponent and be sure you both have an understanding of them.

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