The Civil War: A Brief Recounting

I’ve just finished up my first play of The Civil War, playing a short 3-turn game to nail down some of the rules before embarking on a longer game at some point in the near future. What can I say? I really enjoyed this classic and I can see why people like it. It seems to hit just the right spot in terms of rules depth while at the same time beautifully capturing the width and scope of the conflict as it played out historically.

There is something inviting and epic about the map for The Civil War.

Since this was my first game, I really had no idea what I was doing with either side and my play was so astoundingly inept that I’m not sure it makes for great retelling.  For those still interested, I’ll summarize the events rather than go into lurid detail:

I started off with the 1861 setup and decided to play three turns just to start learning the rules.

The Union went hard in the Trans-Mississippi and the West early in the game during turns 1 and 2. Lyon managed to push out the Confederates entirely from Missouri and even make some impressive gains down in Arkansas while the Southern generals looked on uselessly. The Union spent a good deal of turn 2 building up its forces along the border with Kentucky and preparing to move in as fast as possible to scoop up the victory points.

3-star General Lyon makes his way into Arkansas

Meanwhile, the Confederates had been using nearly all of the resources at their disposal in hopes of quickly ending the war by taking Washington, DC itself.

To that end, General Joseph E. Johnston commanded the Army of Northern Virginia and marched across the Potomac in the second turn. The Union player suffered a defeat as the Confederates entered Maryland. In haste, the Northerners kept the Confederate army from attacking Washington itself by creating the Army of the Potomac with William Rosecrans as its commander.

A mere four SPs worth of Confederate soldiers led by General Pierre Beauregard stood at the gates of DC and remained completely unmolested by Irvin McDowell’s men, who sheltered in the city during the summer months under the guise of “digging in”. Infuriating.

Too late, the Union player pulled its commanders and men from Ohio back towards the east. The Union tried to cut off the supply of the Confederate Army outside of DC but having allotted the bulk of his command points to the Trans Mississippi region, there were simply not enough CPs left to get the job done.

By the end of turn 3, the Army of Northern Virginia had mauled Rosecrans’ men. The Army of the Potomac had been demoralized and sent into retreat from the north of Washington. The only thing left to do was take on the bumbling McDowell in DC. As luck would have it though, the Union defenders clung to the city but at significant cost in SPs. With the game on the edge of decision, I couldn’t resist carrying on for one more turn to see what would happen.

In turn 4, the Confederate player won initiative with an impressive 9 points of die differential. It was enough to call in reinforcements to the Army of Northern Virginia and press on with the attack on Washington, this time with a 2 to 1 advantage. The fighting in the capital was fierce and the city hotly contested but the Confederate player managed a victory and took the city.

I stopped playing at this point, satisfied with a resolution of sorts to my first game.  Had I continued, the Union player would have been in dire straits for the next several turns. All of the work in the West and Trans-Miss. would need to be halted and a good deal of effort expended to free the Northern capital from the grip of Confederate control.

Did that really happen? I kept looking for a rule that I had missed somewhere along the way but my only answer seemed to be that I had fumbled badly as the Union player by shoving so much men and CPs into other theatres and thereby imperilled Washington itself. Lesson learned.

The Yankees lose Washington, DC!

I think I now have enough of a handle on the rules to try the game again, focusing more on strategy rather than learning the rules. I might be wrong but the feel of this game was actually remarkably similar in some ways to Joe Balkoski’s The Korean War. I felt at times that the handling of rail movement, supply and command priority, and the varying turn length worked in similar ways.   I’m not really sure what it is but there is something about this game that just makes me feel really comfortable.

The fun in The Civil War comes from outmaneuvering your opponent with smaller forces and choking off their supply lines. I felt that a more aggressive use of forces in the East by the Union commander could have resulted in a maneuver that could have cut off the supply of the Army of N. Virginia but this was a lesson that I learned way too late. It is insanely difficult to defeat an entire army in battle but it is very possible to use smaller forces to slice through its supply lines and make it vulnerable to the effects of demoralization and attrition.

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t really get to use the naval rules although I did try an early amphibious landing with Union forces that got repelled. River transport and combat looks great and exciting and, from what the rules say, appears to be smoothly integrated in the game and make sense. An 8-turn game would undoubtedly give me a chance to really give this aspect of the game a shot.

I know that I got quite a few rules wrong this first time round but I think I gained a general sense of how the game flows and what players should be doing.  With more plays under my belt and much better rules-mastery, I can easily see a game like this becoming a favorite.


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