Nov 8, 2007
The best war-themed board games are objects that cry out to be framed and hung on bedroom walls. Their digital equivalents are rarely as handsome or full of character. Why?
We blame devs too short-sighted or mean to employ art talent like Robin Pirez and Sandra Rieunier-Duval, who have ensured this deep, turn-based treatment of the War Between the States is as decorative and atmospheric as it is engrossing and elegant.
At its core, this is a game about moving armies and molding them. Economics, logistics, domestic politics and foreign relations impinge, but most of your time is spent pushing cute force counters across the lovely cellular map, or combining or splitting armies in the unit panel.
The latter activity is a lot more interesting than it sounds thanks to strict command constraints and very individualized leaders. Want to promote a young natural over the head of a well-connected-yet-inept walrus? It will cost you precious victory points.
During the resolution phase of each two-week turn, opposing forces that share a county may, depending on the postures assigned them, decide to duke it out. All you get to see is a swing-o-meter followed by a results screen dotted with narrative icons. Given the problems associated with creating credible tactical layers and the scale and duration of the Civil War, this is not necessarily a shortcoming.
By keeping their gaze firmly fixed on the strat/operational stratum, devs AGEOD have been able to create something tight, challenging, and steeped in history. This isn't one of those war games where you amass huge armies and stomp around the map like Genghis Hitler. It isn't one where frontlines lie as lifeless as dead snakes for hours. Mismatched leaders, spacious geography and fragile supply lines keep the action lively and believable.
Playing as the Union we frequently found ourselves gravitating toward a Lincolnian approach (Southern port blockades, thrusts toward Richmond and Atlanta, stovepipe hats for all). Leading the Rebs, cavalry raids, deft Northern nose-bloodying and mellow Kentucky bourbon became natural preoccupations.
Just about the only thing we can find to grumble about is the music. It's perfect (plenty of fife and drum, fiddle and banjo) but the period song snippets are far too brief. Thank heavens for the good ole' 2nd South Carolina String Band!