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SPI's Bloody April: The Battle of Shiloh, 1862


by Russ Gifford

Photos by Russ Gifford

It took three years, but in 1979 Richard Berg delivered a second monster game using the award winning Terrible Swift Sword system. Nearly the same scale (115 yds per hex and 100 men per strength point), still using regimental level troop counters and individual leader counters, Bloody April seemed poised to win the same accolades as Terrible Swift Sword. But it didn't.

What happened?

First, there is nothing wrong with Bloody April. Recounting Grant's successful campaign on the Tennessee River, the game does everything asked of it: it recounts the situation, gives players a good feel for the difficulties and decisions faced by their real life counterparts, and it has plenty of details that won rave reviews for TSS.

But these things were also part of the problem. As in TSS, there are individual troop weapons - but in BA, there are MORE details - and less movement on the battlefield. The feel of the game is different. Neither better nor worse, just different.

Mainly, it is the tight, closed nature of the terrain, with hard marches followed by explosive confrontations when troops collide at close range. The clearings become killing zones as the only place where rifles and artillery matter. And the lethal nature of the battle means it has the feel of a slugfest, as opposed to the 'grand-strategic' chess match of TSS.

Too Much Chrome?

While Berg gets knocked for excessive detail, these are exactly the things that won him kudos in TSS, so it is easy to forget he is only doing what he does best - putting the 'feel' of combat into the 'game.'

Many good things came from Bloody April as Berg and the system tried a few new paths before it settled into the tried and true game that has become the Great Battles of the American Civil War. Eric Lee Smith would follow BA with the development of the GBACW system of standard rules. Berg's next effort in system would be The Battle of Corinth, developed by Smith.

But all that was in the future. In 1979, Bloody April had been eagerly awaited by TSS lovers everywhere. And while in hindsight it is clear Bloody April did not achieve the great things TSS managed, it did not keep gamers from buying, playing and enjoying BA. After three years of fighting over Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top, the change was a welcome experience.

2006, by Russ Gifford