For those graybeards among gamers who can remember the late 1970s and early 1980s, when First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was new and the Atari was about the only home video game system on the market, a number of board games will stand out – Melee and Wizards (The Fantasy Trip), Dungeon the Board Game, Car Wars, Ogre/G.E.V., and company names like Avalon Hill, Task Force Games, Games Designers Workshop (GDW), Steve Jackson Games and Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). In this series of reviews, member of the City Island Board Game Group will look at some of those games from that bygone era. In this installment and in the next, we will consider TSR’s Remember the Alamo.
In 1980, TSR released their simulation of the Texans’ desperate defense of The Alamo, a mission that had been converted into a fortress meant only to repel attacks by natives. Texas, then a part of Meixco that was inhabited mainly by American immigrants, was appalled at the recent change of Mexico’s government from a federalist to a more centralized government. Texans wanted independence and defeated the Mexican army at many turns throughout Texas. But Sanata Ana moved in on the Alamo, where David Bowie and Colonel William Travis commanded a small but dedicated force.
In the real battle, Texans successfully fended off the first two waves of attacks, only to be overwhelmed by the third wave. Survivors were executed by Santa Ana as ‘pirates,’ in spite of the other Mexican officers’ desire to show mercy. Reports of the battle renewed Texan resolve, and Texas soon won its indepenedence.
In the TSR game, called Remember the Alamo, a two-player affair that takes about 90 minutes, the Texans are all but unbeatable, barring legendary dice luck by the Mexican player.
Texan forces are in a position of tremendous advantage on the walls of the Alamo. This itself in understandable, and their cannons combine with their gunfire bonuses to allow them to inflict the heavy historic casualties on the Mexican army that one would expect from a proper simulation. However, with the exception of the three Mexican Elite units (not counting the Elites that later join the battle), the combat resolution system does not allow a Mexican firing unit to kill a Texan, even if a six is rolled on the die. There literally is no way for the bulk of the Mexicans to do anything but retreat a Texan off the wall – and the Texans can simply move up again into position on the very next turn. The Texans’ ability to fire first means that the paltry three Mexican Elite units can be reduced, taking away their firing bonus, before they even get to shoot once! And even if they are not thus reduced, only good luck on the dice will allow them to inflict any casualties at all.
A Mexican that gets into the only breach must stop, and one he gets in, he is subject to additional cannon fire in from within the compound. The Texans will surely combine their attacks against any such interlopers, meaning that the breach is not a very useful means for getting the minimum of three Mexicans into the Alamo to avoid failing the first morale check at eight Mexican casualties. And, rest assured, they will take those casualties. The other method of getting inside, using the eight available ladders to scale the wall, has little chance of working since the Texans can either knock down or destroy the ladders in a timely enough manner to stop the morale checks from succeeding. The Texans will certainly take casualties at this time since all Mexican units are superior in melee, but it is too little, too late for the Mexican player.
Three Mexican routs, and the game is over. If the Mexicans pass but a single morale check they need not pass again, but this is cold comfort to the Mexican player who will almost certainly fail all three.
The game might be improved by giving the Mexicans a better chance to inflict casualties early on, or at least to gain entry into the Alamo. Perhaps the retreat rules are where the secret lies – make it so a Texan that has just retreated has his counter overturned and can only flip his counter over on the next movement phase. This can reflect the time it takes to climb back up the catwalks to defend the wall. This rules tweak needs to be playtested, of course – something the City Island Board Game Group is not above trying at a future date. Perhaps it would make it too easy for Santa Ana’s forces to gain the Alamo. But, to paraphrase Maxwell Smart from the ‘Get Smart’ series, ‘It’s certainly worth a try!’
Now for the positives. The game is nicely made, with more than aqdequate components, and the designers took pains to recreate the historical map from accounts from the time. The rules otherwise play quite smoothly. Overall, the game would receive a rating of five stars for capturing the feel of the battle and having quite serviceable components. Due to the inevitability of the outcome it deserves only two stars. A rules change such as the proposed retreat rules for Texans would easily bring this game’s rating up to five stars.
The optional rules allow for a healthy Dave Bowie (he starts the game, as he did historically, wounded and unable to leave his bed), a chance for the Texans to blow up the powder keg (which they tried, but failed, to do historically), and for optional placement of the units on the board. In the lattermost scenario, the Texans flip over the ladder counters (which have the same ‘lone star’ logo on them as the overturned Texan counters) and places the Texans, Tenneseeans, canons and leaders secretly, using the ladders as decoys. The Mexican player then chooses different start zones, if desired, from the ones designated by the base scenario. The first two options favor the Texans, which doesn’t really help the game much, and the latter arguably helps either side, depending on the setup. It probably mostly favors the Texans.
Overall, an impressive effort, and if the Mexican player had any real chance to win, it would have shined among the many excellent Avalon Hill wargames that were available at that time. Unlike some microgames from the day, this one easily stands the test of time in terms of rules and components – it just needs a tweak like the one above to make it a fair fight.