TITLE: The Blue Light Manual: Wargame Rules for the American Civil War
AUTHOR: Edward Pauley
PUBLISHER: Fantasy Games Unlimited
PUBLICATION DATE: 1977
WEB SITE/SUPPORT FORUM: None
PRICE (with date): Out of Print (in 2010)
REVIEWED BY: Mark “Extra Crispy” Severin
PERIOD COVERED: The American Civil War
THE BOOK: The Blue-Light Manual is an 8.5 x 11” booklet with a card stock cover. It is black and white throughout and the illustration show their age - block diagrams that were actually drawn with a ruler! My copy was purchased (very) used and included a unit movement roster. I am missing at least one other insert as I do not have the artillery template, nor a quick reference sheet.
SCOPE: BLM is a tactical game of Civil War combat.
ARMY SIZE: Regiments in BLM are 20 figures, and the game brigades five regiments together, so armies will be large.
BASE UNIT: Infantry and cavalry units represent regiments while artillery is formed into batteries.
- Ground Scale: 1 mm = 2 feet, or 1” = approx. 50 feet.
- Time scale 1 turn = 20-30 minutes
- Figure/Base Ratio 1 infantry or cavalry figure = 30 men. Each gun model represents one section of artillery.
- Recommended Figure Size: 25mm but conversion for 15mm and other scales is covered.
- Table Size: None stated but based on basing and unit size, large tables will be required.
- Game Length: Not stated.
- Infantry: 80 mm x 20 mm
- Cavalry: 50 mm x 40mm
- Artillery: 50 mm x 50 mm
- Movement and Disposition Order (MDO) Preparation: Written orders are recorded for each stand in play.
- Simultaneous Movement
- Artillery Canister Fire
- Simultaneous Small Arms Fire
- Artillery Shot & Shell Fire
- Melees Fought and Results Applied
- General Morale Checked.
The Movement and Disposition Order:
A key defining feature of The Blue-Light Manual rules are the MDOs. In essence these are written orders for every stand in play. They require a player to record the formation of the stand, the direction of its movement, its speed, etc. For artillery it even includes noting whether it will fire canister or shot/shell. All movement and activity - an about face, or inter-penetration of lines - must be recorded in writing. If a stand is ordered to move it must move as ordered at least 50 mm.
The movement rules in BLM are quite detailed, in part because of the use of the MDO and simultaneous movement. Each unit type has three different movement speeds. Units may move any speed they like subject to numerous restrictions. Infantry, for example, have a Common Time speed of 150 mm, and a Double Time speed of 230 mm. However, you may not double time two turns in a row.
In BLM each stand (representing two companies) may move independently. While there are some bonuses for the use of historical formations, they are not actually proscribed. For example, BLM awards a movement bonus for units moving in what is called a Movement Line. This is essentially two stands moving together side-by-side almost as a single stand. This freedom to move as completely independent units is why each stand requires its own MDO.
The rules include the usual accounting for roads, slopes, woods and various obstacles. The rules are highly detailed and cover a majority of all the situations likely to arise in a game.
BLM also provides detailed rules for “adjustments.” There are Pre-movement Adjustments (PMAs), Inter-Movement Adjustments (IMAs) and After Movement Adjustments (AMAs). PMAs and AMAs allow stands to rotate up to 45o at no movement cost. IMAs allow units to deviate from straight movement to avoid an obstacle. Note that stands may not wheel or oblique, so these adjustments are crucial. The rules are quite precise and explicit. For example a stand may rotate more than 45o as part of the PMA, but it pays a movement penalty for every 5o over 45 moved. Measuring with a protractor is recommended.
Artillery fire and small arms fire are resolved in the same way, just using different modifiers.
For ranged combat, the firing player rolls one die for each figure on a firing stand. Each die rolled yields a Casualty Code Number, from 0 to 5. (Note: If I were playing these rules I would make custom D6 to save having to check the dice against a chart.) These are then added together and are called the Raw CCN. Modifiers are then applied to the Raw CCN. These include modifiers for terrain, formation, range, etc. Thus you subtract two from the Raw CCN total (not the die rolls) when firing at a target at extreme range, and add two if firing with breech loading carbines.
Once all of the modifiers to the Raw CCN have been applied, the result is the True CCN. To determine casualties, the True CCN is multiplied by two, then divided by ten, ignoring all fractions. The resulting whole number is the number of enemy figures killed. Thus a Raw CCN of 4 with a net modifier of plus 2 yields a True CCN of 6. 6 x 2 = 12 and 12/10 = 1.2. Dropping the fractions this would yield one casualty.
Most of the modifiers are standard fare - reductions for terrain, for shooting at enemy skirmishers, for long range. Interestingly there are no bonuses for enfilade or fire from the rear. There is, however, an unusual bonus. The firing stands may add 2 to the Raw CCN if they are part of a firing line. Essentially if multiple stands are side by side and fire together, they receive the bonus. The rules allow some non firing stands (artillery, skirmish) to intervene and still receive the bonus.
Subject to a few restrictions, the defender chooses the figures to be eliminated.
Artillery fire is carried out the same way, but the modifiers are all different. Target formation, type of ammunition fired, and range all affect the Raw CCN of the firing unit.
Melee will result when stands come into contact either as a result of normal movement or as a result of a charge (keep in mind movement is simultaneous).
In some cases the defending unit may issue Pre-Melee Fire. The normal ranged combat rules are used. Casualties are taken immediately prior to resolving melee. To issue Pre-Melee Fire a unit must have been under an appropriate MDO (no movement, or Prepare to Receive Charge, for example).
After Pre-Melee Fire has been resolved, each side determines how it will engage the enemy. Unusually if multiple stands on both sides overlap each side may engage the other in different combinations.
To resolve each melee, a single die is rolled for each side. The die rolls are subject to numerous modifiers for formation, flank attacks, Unit Caliber (i.e. quality/morale), charging etc. Many of the modifiers work both ways. For example, if the Union outnumbers the CSA by one figure, he will add one to his die, while the CSA will subtract one. The same applies to holding the high ground. It adds one to the die for the player with the high ground while subtracting one for the other.
Once die roll has been determined the morale chart indicates how many figures of the enemy were demoralized. The player inflicting more such hits wins the combat. Another die is rolled and the Melee Results Table consulted. The loser will either retire or rout.
Infantry and cavalry regiments are rated as elite, standard or sub-standard. Elite units receive a bonus for many game functions such as firing (add one to their Raw CCN) and melee.
Morale checks in BLM are driven by casualties. Standard regiments must make a morale check upon losing their 8th casualty (Elite check at 10, Sub-standard at 6). For each unit roll a die and consult the morale table. This yields a number of figures demoralized. These are immediately removed as casualties. Every turn after that in which it takes a casualty the unit must check again. After the 12th casualty units check for morale every turn regardless of casualties.
Unit Integrity & Command:
Command stands play an important role in BLM. Each command stand has a command radius - units within the radius receive certain benefits:
- Units within 200 mm of their command stand do not need to test for General Morale.
- Retreating units that retreat to within 250 mm of their command stand, the unit immediately rallies at that point.
- Bonuses for movement, melee and firing.
Units are not required to maintain unit integrity - they simply lose the benefits outlined above.
There are a large number of optional rules included. Some of the most notable are:
- Hidden Movement
- Cavalry Vedettes
The final section of the book includes additional rules and suggestions for including unusual unit types into the game. These units types include Militia, Irregular Cavalry (Mosby’s Raiders for example) and Siege artillery.
For each such special unit type, details as to their unit statistics and capabilities are given, along with restrictions, special rules to deal with them, etc.
There are no army lists or scenarios included.
The Blue-Light Manual is what today would be called very “Old school.” The emphasis is clearly on drill. Specifying marching pace, measuring wheels with a protractor and pre-plotting movement for every stand show an attention to the minutiae of the evolutions of each stand. Command and control and morale, meanwhile, are extremely basic, almost perfunctory.
The writing style and concepts are also somewhat foreign. What today we call arc of fire or field of fire is, in BLM, broken down into General Target Area and Specific Target Area. Likewise, where in today’s rules we would simply have a sentence indicating you can’t shoot through an enemy unit, in BLM there are two pages and several diagrams devoted to “screening.”
The rules are also organized in a strange way. Morale is presented last (because it comes last in the sequence of play). And it turns out Unit Caliber is a modifier to almost everything that went before. Yet in the rules this is never mentioned. Suddenly you get to the end and realize - Oh! Elites get a +1 to nearly everything. Though to be fair if a player aid card originally came with the rules the modifiers may have been listed there.
I’ve long heard about rules that required a protractor, and multi-step math, so I’m happy to have finally found such a rule set. It does seem needlessly detailed (isn’t multiplying by two then dividing by ten the same as dividing by five?), though I assume much of that is just the style of the times in which it was written!