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Melee Mastery for GBACW


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What should you consider when using melee in GBACW?


James Laubach writes:

"Something important about 'Withdrawal Before Melee:"
A unit may change facing only during a friendly movement phase or after melee (7.13, Standard Rules), so they retain the same facing for retreats. Note that when Withdrawal Fire takes place during the Movement Phase, the moving unit that triggers the Withdrawal Fire can change facing during the movement, and the enfilade shift applies if the withdrawing unit is fired on through an enfilade hexside.


Russ Gifford writes:

"That's a HUGE point, James!"
James, you are saying if a unit leaves in the RETREAT BEFORE MELEE, he is BACKING into the hex, thus not triggering the enfilade?

It is an important distinction, because James' statement is that RETREAT Before Melee is not Movement, it is RETREAT, so it also prevents other 'gamey' situations, as in 'retreating forward.'

Movement offers FREE choices; RETREATS are proscribed. So you can't Retreat Before Melee and move FORWARD to get away.

RETREATS [14.0] "units must retreat away from enemy units and toward their own lines."

Also, [14.2] clearly says that "(Exception: units Retreating
Before Melee cannot enter enemy ZOC)." (This is spelled out here, because a Rout Retreat or a Melee retreat MAY enter ENEMY ZOC.)  It is also stated in [12.83].

Note: (I tend to use the TSS 2nd ed rules as they expand on some of the concepts.)


James Laubach writes:

"Something important about 'Withdrawal Before Melee:"
To summarize, according to the Standard Rules, withdrawal fire occurs during the friendly movement phase and/or the friendly retreat before melee phase (10.1 and 10.17). Both are voluntary, but only in the first case can the unit change facing (7.13). The withdrawal fire in the retreat before melee phase is different from retreat fire (10.2), but I think we agree that the retreating unit can't change facing in either case.

Neither withdrawal fire nor retreat fire automatically receive an enfilade shift. As you point out, a unit withdrawing during the movement phase will almost invariably present its enfilade to an enemy unit. However, if a unit triggers withdrawal fire by moving forward into a gap in the enemy line then there won't be an enfilade shift. For retreating units, because a retreating unit can't change facing, withdrawal fire in the retreat before melee phase probably won't benefit from an enfilade shift. Whether there is an enfilade shift in retreat fire (10.2) depends on the orientation of the retreating unit relative to the enemy unit when the retreating unit is forced into the enemy ZOC.


Russ Gifford writes:

"Another great point on Withdrawal from Melee."
 TSS 2nd edition makes it clear the unit only takes ONE morale check for leaving, and it does not matter if they were fired on / took casualties or not. And [12.85] clearly states that MC is taken at the END of the Retreat and before melee movement.


Russ Gifford writes:

"One of the few tricky issues with TSS/GBACW v1 is understanding the difference between RETREAT and WITHDRAWAL."

It is difficult only because of this issue we are discussing:

WITHDRAWAL FIRE happens ONLY in the MOVEMENT phase, when a unit freely chooses to leave an Enemy ZOC and suffer the consequences

EXCEPT it ALSO applies in the Retreat before Melee Phase if a player voluntarily chooses to leave the ZOC rather than stand for Melee. A Pin result might stop that of course, but also remember, because it is a retreat you are more limited in your choices!  (I mention voluntarily, because all other RETREATS are involuntary results due to Fire or Melee outcomes.)

So we all agree that CHOOSING to leave an Enemy ZOC in the MOVEMENT Phase will get you shot, and most likely enfiladed. (Not ALWAYS - but usually.)  But in Retreat Before Melee, you can essentially 'back up', giving ground but not turning your back on the enemy. Only makes sense! Thank you for making this clear, James!

[7.11] A unit can move into any adjacent hex regardless of which hex it was facing before it moved. However, a unit must be faced toward the hex (i.e., the top of the counter pointed toward the hex) that unit is to enter before it is moved into a hex.) Thus, a unit can never "back" into a hex (Exception: see case 15.5 ) This is important when resolving Withdrawal Fire (see case 10.1).

So I am penciling in 'Exception: Retreat Before Melee." (see case 12.8)

Note that 'Retreat Fire' is the result of situations, not voluntary choice. Retreat Fire happens if a unit enters an enemy ZOC due to a retreat. Yet, the rules tell us that happens only ie, ROUTED units retreat (but by definition, a routed unit has no facing) and units forced back in a melee result of 'Retreat' - or forced back due to the retreat of another retreating unit which has no choice but to enter a friendly unit's hex, displacing that unit.

The rules clearly say a unit forced back in melee retains its facing.

The exception listed in 15.5? Artillery Retire by Prolonge. (Moves backwards without changing facing.)

(Also note in the TSS 2nd Edition rules, if TWO units are in the hex, one can remain and 'cover' for the withdrawing unit - it takes the fire, thus would presumably NOT suffer an enfilade shift, since you'd assume he is FACING the opponent.


Nathan Summerside on Melee:

"Put the big regiments at the front and push! When you are on the attack, you have to make things happen, and the big regiments make the defenders think twice. They can do the math, and know the differential for melee will hurt - and if you add a leader to the big regiments, they know they are about to be hurt.

"If you can get them to run before you melee, so much the better! You get an enfilade shot to help them on their way. You still get to take the hex, and you might take a strength point from them with no risk of melee,  since they are giving you a free shot."

"But if you are the attacker, you have to keep the pressure on!


James Laubach writes:

"More good things about melee:
It gives you the chance to move 7 hexes in one turn.
It is the main way to break lines and surround units.
It gets the enemy moving backwards. The proper orchestration of a series of melees combined with the retreat and rout rules can cause the collapse of entire sections of the line and creates Chaos (and surrenders).
If you are the attacker, there is very little wrong with an engaged result, especially if there is an enemy leader in the hex (leadership effectiveness radius goes to zero, so all enemy subordinate units not engaged in the melee are out of command in the next initial command phase).
Although I've never tried it, a negative or zero melee differential may be a good thing if you are on defense and trying to break out of an impending encirclement. The attacker retreat result may be exactly what you're looking for.

In general:
"Melees are where the gambles are taken.
To take a fortified position with a frontal assault will often require a series of low   differential melees. The fight for the gully in Pleasant Hill comes to mind. The defender has all of the advantages in a fire fight so you have to move them out or come up with another plan. It is the one time where you are hoping for a 1 die roll. And if the results are not optimal, at least you probably won't still be toe-to-toe with an entrenched foe in a firefight for the next turn."


Russ Gifford writes:

"Melee is a major tactic in GBACW. Frequently, the goal is to take a hill or a victory point hex. Or you need that hex to pressure the enemy line. While we might hope that we will buckle the enemy due to fire combat, it generally requires something extra to break a brigade or regiment's hold on an area.

"That something extra is melee."

"Melee generally results in someone giving up ground. Only an engaged result can change that, and at most usual melee levels, there is only 1 chance in 6 of an 'Engaged' result. 

"Thus, melee is a vital piece of the puzzle of playing GBACW well. The threat of melee can keep defenders off balance. But the mutually bloody nature of melee makes it a dual-edged sword. Add to your calculations though that most versions of the game make it nearly required to put a leader into the melee! (Rule 12.27 in TSS2, see the Exclusive rules for the rest of the games..]

"First, let's look at when to melee, using GBACW melee chart. (TSS2 uses a slightly different melee chart.)

Rule 1: Don't even think about melee if you don't have a strength advantage.

"At + 0 differential, only 2 bad things can happen to the defender - three only if the result is 'Repulsed' AND the defender fails a morale check. Passing the morale check means the defender is left untouched.

"But at least 3 bad things are waiting to happen to the attacker - since a 'Repulsed' for the attacker will cause him to leave the hex. Really, out of six outcomes at the +0 differential, at least 4, and perhaps 5 results could be considered bad.

"I am not automatically considering the 'K' result a bad thing - but as the attacker, the 'Eng' result in a +0 differential certainly is. Engaged invites disaster,  since it means your troops are trapped in the hex, and now the enemy will have the chance to reinforce. Since you were at +0, this could mean they can make it a +2 or +3 advantage! 

"So why isn't the "K" automatically such a bad result? I think losing 1 SP to clear the hex is generally acceptable in this game. We risked much more than that closing with the enemy!

"But there are some hidden traps in the 'K' result that you should be aware of. We'll consider that in a moment, since it is true in any melee result of 'K.'

"Strength advantage is + 1 differential isn't much better, but it at least offers a roughly 50 - 50 chance for the attacker. Still not great, unless the attacker has overwhelming force in the area. So, that leads to ...

Rule 2: Unless there is an overwhelming reason, the +2 differential is really the minimum point where you should consider melee as the attacker. 

"After that, it becomes a no brainer. +3 and above is the best you can do. 

"But the truth is, it is NEVER a 'no brainer' since you rarely know if ALL the troops are going to come into the melee! To get higher than +2, you often have regiments stretched out around the defender. That means you have to rely on a die roll to get them into the fray. Which translates to the fact some of them could decide to 'sit it out' - and you'll have less than the optimum number of troops in a melee!

Rule 3: Be prepared to pay for the ground you take.

"Time to look at that 'K' result. The +3 and +4 column give you a 2 out of 6 chance to lose a strength point - and much more - thanks the to 'K' result.

"Since most of the games require a leader's help to get troops into melee, leaders end up in the front lines, and in melees. That's good - they give us a +1 morale advantage to stand up to the defensive fire, and in melee, they give us a +1 strength point! All good things!

"Yes, as long as we face facts that if we have a leader in the melee, that 'K' result could be a death knell.

"On a 'K' result, if you have a leader in the melee, there is a almost a 1 in 6 chance that you will lose that leader!

"So am I saying you should never have a leader in a melee? Am I saying you shouldn't melee in general?

"No - In fact, I believe the opposite. Melee is too important to leave the execution to a lucky die roll. If a melee is important, then put the resources needed to make it happen - a leader - on the line, if I can get at least a +2 differential.

"The threat of a melee may make your opponent give you the ground. Of course...

Rule 4: Like all tactics, the threat is often more powerful than the execution.

"Why? Because if I am declaring my intent to melee, now the defender has to decide: do I stand, or do I attempt to retreat before melee? My feeling is they could do more damage to themselves attempting escape than they will suffer if they stand for the melee! (Retreating units are subject to Withdrawal Fire, and unless they are in woods or behind a crest, etc., they are risking an SP loss to run - and sometimes worse!)

"If the defender does choose to stand, though, we have to follow through, and as we stated above, when we put a leader into your melee, we are putting him at some risk! (About 6% chance of losing him at the +3 or 4 differential level, and less than 3% at any level above that.)

Rule 5: But adverse melee results are a risk a player has to accept. Melee is a required tactic if you intend to win at GBACW/TSS.

"Attacking almost requires melees to be effective. Capturing guns demand it. And it is certainly an important counterattack tool. (A low +2 counterattack once saved the entire Union army in game of TSS2. If they hadn't had the courage to take that chance, the CSA would have owned the road network, and the night!)

"Melee is an important tool to master in GBACW/TSS, because it is often the only way to take away strength points and territory. Melees can position your troops in the right place at the right time!"

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