War For The Union/Civil War


These 2 games cover the same conflict at roughly the same scale. Having played umpteen games of Civil War (undeterred by no' 1 son eating general McDowell), I played 1 1/2 half campaigns of War For The Union (my wife moved the board) followed by yet another Civil War campaign. All this to answer the question of just how different the 2 games are War For The Union is the more recent game and sports impressive graphics but Civil War is the most innovative in rules terms. Civil War uses 2 monthly turns divided into pulses, usually 1 player will move a stack followed by his opponent. The system is regulated by dividing the map into 3 areas, East, West and Far West, both players roll 2D6 and receive a number of points for each area based on a priority chosen the previous turn. Both players again roll 2D6 and compare the difference, the player winning the rolls spends the difference in points followed by his opponent. Both rolls will tend towards 7 so the difference will usually be small. Leaders are rated from 2 to 4, paying that number of points will move the leader plus all troops that he is eligible to command. 2 point leaders (Grant, Sherman, Lee) will be able to move more easily than 3 or 4s (Fremont). Points are spent from the theatre that a unit begins moving in, so the allocation of points will be spread throughout the map. Players alternate spending points (die roll winner spending 1st) until all points are spent and reinforcements brought on or until both players roll the same total. If the die rolls agree, further points are given to the players or the turn is ended, depending on how many ties have taken place that turn and the score of both 2D6s.


The advantage of this system is that neither player can be sure how long a turn will be. Commanders can only move once per pulse but can move in all friendly pulses as long as there are points available for the theatre that they begin moving in, they can move between theatres and use points from more than 1 source during a turn. The drawback is that the game tends to home in on certain areas and ignore others. Dividing the map into 3 prevents points in the west being used in the East but does not control how points are spent within an area. Consider USA advances along the Mississippi from both ends each drawing on the West points pool, Grant (rating 2) moving downstream and Butler (rating 3) moving up. If the USA spends points on Grant every turn but only activates Butler when there is a surplus available (perhaps the CSA has spent all its West points), then Grant will see a lot more action than Butler, there are probably additional generals in Kentucky vying for the same points.


In actual games there is a big advantage in having a good morale stack attack a disorganised (by combat) enemy, a good play is to spend points to recover from disorganisation then spend again to move and attack a disorganised stack. Another useful ploy is to keep attacking, recovering and attacking the same enemy again and again in successive pulses. Combat will only destroy a maximum of 3 strength points per battle so a series of attacks in successive pulses (7 days battles) are the only way to really break up an opponent. Naturally the opponent will use his pulses to build up or protect any disadvantaged force. This sort of play leads to the bulk of the points available in a theatre being spent on 2 opposing forces within a few hexes of each other, many other stacks will stand by glaring at each other deprived of the points to move. This does reflect the USA taking ports but not advancing far into the interior. The system works best for the East where there is little space for more than 2 serious forces to manoeuvre. It is not too good at showing the West, where the benefits of cutting the Mississippi will provoke a lot of action. The Far West is often selected as low priority for points so often very little will happen there. War For The Union is a straightforward I go you go game. Land units move and after they have all had a go, fight. Leaders are needed to move land units, except by rail or sea, so you cannot run all over the map. The USA pig push will be held up until there are sufficient leaders to move troops on all fronts against the CSA. Although this game system is the simpler, it shows greater detail for infantry and naval units. The time scale is 1 month per turn rather than 2 but because War For The Union units only move once per turn, it takes about the same time to play 2 months of both games. Civil War units are able to move more than twice as far in 2 months (if they move at all) because of the pulse system. War For The Union has more types of naval unit and these are more readily available for the CSA. It is quite possible for the CSA to gain control of a major river (but not for long), this is most unlikely in Civil War. Ground units are divided into Militia, Volunteer, Veteran and Regular, the few Regular units are not much different to Volunteer so it is hard to justify their existence. Only the USA has Militia, whose movement allowance is 1 lower than all the other types. All USA units start as Militia (except a few Regular) and all CSA Volunteer. The USA will have a hard job marching far South with its Militia army, who are also inferior in combat to Volunteers, Veterans are better still. An equally well commanded early war USA army will be inferior to a CSA force, Bull Run could be interpreted as more of an equal fight. Each year all troops are upgraded by 1 level, a tedious task for the USA because Militia are separate counters to the double sided Volunteer/Veteran. The 2 armies do get better with passing time but do not achieve 100% Veteran because all new troops arrive as Militia or Volunteer plus some Veterans are removed due to end of enlistment (USA) or despair (CSA, based on how poorly the CSA is doing).


If the optional Far West map of Civil War is not used, both games follow the same probable lines of play. An early CSA victory is possible but only against a USA that has failed to adequately garrison Washington. It is a pain to prepare for a long game and have the CSA romp home in 1861 or early '62. The USA should always keep plenty of troops in Washington, even at the expense of reinforcing the Army of the Potomac. In Civil War, 6 SPs and a fortress in Washington will guarantee that the capital is impregnable. Having prevented an automatic CSA win both games will show a gradual USA advance, coupled with the CSA running out of troops leading to an occupation of an unguarded Confederacy or the CSA just holding together and Lincoln losing the 1864 election. Both games penalise the CSA for being divided along the Mississippi, cutting the CSA into chunks along other axis will cause it supply problems but not to the same degree. It is preferable to isolate remaining CSA Western forces on the West bank of the river in both games. In Civil War they will be unable to re-cross the river (put a line of boats along it and show the reb the movement rules), in War For The Union, these forces will swiftly diminish from attrition. Although the CSA can capture Missouri, its forces there can be trapped by loss of the Mississippi. Similarly, a heavy effort to take Kentucky will only give the CSA a longer border to defend and burn up precious troops. The most sensible CSA strategy in both games is to send the very best generals to the East and try to destroy more USA troops than CSA in the early game, aiming to offset the USA advantage in numbers for as long as possible. The West should be fortified straight away to slow the USA advance, conversely the USA should try and capture New Orleans before it is fortified, the task becomes very difficult later.


The CSA is forced onto the defensive because the USA has a greater reinforcement rate. In Civil War this is fixed and will see the CSA receive no reinforcements late in the game. All the USA has to do is keep attacking and watch the CSA armies fall apart. In War For The Union, CSA reinforcements are based on the amount of territory held by the South. In that game an advance will remove troops in battles and reduce the capacity to replace them by taking cities. Even so CSA replacements are likely to be higher than the zero provided by Civil War. This makes an advance into the CSA late in the game easier in Civil War because it is unlikely that the CSA will be able to bring on new troops at key cities to slow any breakthrough. This is balanced or fudged by the USA having to capture a very large number of cities to win at the end of the war. The totals are only attainable by converting all victory point cities in several states. Sounds fair enough but leads to USA armies having to make long detours to march into the last city of a state and convert it. This is not quite what Sherman did. In both games the late game position may see the CSA blocking off a chunk of the Confederacy from the Union and hoping the USA will not have time to occupy the parts that cannot be defended before the last turn. If the game does not get to this situation, CSA armies still holding the Union at bay on the important fronts, then the CSA has probably won big.


With 2 similar maps and all terrain being in much the same place it is no surprise that the same choke points occur in both games. The USA can use sea power to take out CSA ports by landing small forces or in War For The Union, may assign ships to blockade them. Blockading is temporary and success depends on how many ports are already blockaded, it is better to simply occupy the ports, preferably before the CSA has time to fortify them. Oddly the supply rules of the games mean that some terrain that is important in Civil War will not be used in War For The Union. Supply in both games radiates from railways, 2 hexes in Civil War and 4 movement points (3 in winter) in War For The Union and rivers (Union only in Civil War). Civil War only has the ability to build supply depots in cities, keeping troops within 4 hexes in supply. This means that supply can be traced by use of depots along parts of the map that are only traversible by very small forces in War For The Union (cavalry can amuse themselves by burning these depots). Civil War supplied forces can move between West Virginia and the heart of Virginia, from Missouri and Arkansas and cut across the Appallachians North of Chattanooga. Not all of these routes are likely to be used, the last being unlikely before Kentucky is cleared of rebs. Some clashes of small forces are possible, contrasting with nuisance raids being the only likely actions in these areas in War For The Union. Civil War allows any number of units to stack in a hex, War For The Union imposes a limit of 18 (24 in certain cities). A defense in War For The Union will spread over several hexes, much like Petersburg. Loss of 1 hex of a defense line may still allow the defender to gang up and push back any advancing attackers. Spreading troops out confers no advantage in Civil War, a defense will be a single large stack for maximum strength with possibly a smaller force guarding the flanks. In both games movement of troops is modified by the presence of generals. Naturally this benefits the defense, a force holding a defensive position would prefer not to move. In War For The Union, the USA starts with too few leaders to make serious advances in more than limited areas. Leaders can shuttle troops back and forth to plod on slowly or rearrange a defense but more than 1 leader will be needed for each offensive. In Civil War the USA also gains leaders with time but does gain enough leaders to advance where he pleases early on, alas these leaders are not very good. They allow the USA to make assaults on ports and fringe areas of the CSA much earlier than in War For The Union which needs plenty of leaders to keep the main fronts active.


Leaders play an important part in both games, the CSA has plenty of good leaders giving them an advantage in the early war years but the USA will gradually build up a respectable force of leaders to aid the war effort. In this respect both games are at fault. In War For The Union leaders will arrive on schedule, ready ranked for ability, some will increase in power at a fixed date. Civil War generals are able to be promoted (command more troops) or be removed. Generals are picked from game-turn groups and assigned randomly but it does not take a genius to see which generals have prospects. "Grant, bright boy that", keep an eye on him, transfer him to the important commands as he gains in rank. On the other hand, generals of the like of Fremont will swiftly be transferred to a desk job. If a good general is randomly placed in the Far West, all the stops should be pulled out to get him into the heart of the action. The CSA showed a knack for judging good generals and putting them into the right places, Lee was a known good leader, who would have guessed that Forrest would make a good general (and worse bigot). In this case rating a general reflects the ability of the CSA to reflect its leaders. The USA had to learn the hard way, Fremont was a famous explorer and instrumental in California joining the Union. In both games a fairer reflection of the situation would be to keep all CSA generals but replace each USA general with an unnamed ? leader, ability to be determined when first used. The ability of these leaders would also have to vary a little with promotion, sometimes getting better, perhaps being unable to cope. Who could have known in 1861 that a rumoured heavy drinker like Grant would save the Union. It would not be difficult to make up a set of counters for this variant, keeping the overall ratings the same as for historical leader totals but there would be no Grant, Sherman and the like, not good for game sales.


War For The Union includes counters for foreign troops but no rules to use them. Both games give a bonus to the CSA for capturing Washington or isolating it from the rest of the USA. This is assumed to bring economic or military help to the CSA and is rewarded by extra victory points. The USA gains no specific extra bonus for capturing Richmond, the CSA did move its capital twice (once because of USA occupation). The slave owning border states can be optionally allowed to join the CSA in War For The Union or militarily converted in Civil War. Apart from these points both games stick to military issues and suffer equally badly from hindsight. The simulations presented are of the American Civil War from a historical perspective rather than as it might have appeared in 1861. Players know that to win the USA must conquer the majority of the CSA by the last game turn and hold on to Washington. In 1861 both sides expected a short war, so did not prepare for a long one. The USA is not going to rush off to Richmond on turn 1, unless the CSA makes some serious mistakes, instead he will build up his forces and nibble at the edges of the Confederacy. The CSA will keep an eye out for the chance to strike at Washington although the initial plan was to sit tight, hope to drive off the Union from inside the CSA (fort Sumter) and wait for the foreign diplomats to arrive. The 2 games put the player in the shoes of military commanders that are able to run the war much as they wish, a situation that had happened to Lee and Grant by 1864. A true simulation would lead to this situation by that date but would have to have a good chance of both sides winning before the end of 1861 and reflect political aspects of warfare. The Union should be forced to attack early on to give the public a victory and reunite the states that had been forced to seceed. This situation could either be reflected by idiot rules, hampering what generals can do or giving political penalty and victory points for certain actions. The USA must win a military and political victory, the CSA could win by a political victory and the game by doing nothing and being recognised a de facto independent state. an important issue of the war that is not addressed is of slavery. If the USA had swiftly overrun the South, slavery would have continued in those states. A swift victory would be better for Lincoln because he would have re-forged the Union as it was before. The USA of 1865 was not the same political entity as in 1860. The war was not initially fought over slavery, although if it had been concluded without considering the issue, another war might have occurred because of slavery at a later date. The games assume that Lincoln will free the slaves and adjust the USA reinforcements based on the fact. If The USA had continued to do badly, freeing the slaves might have been seen as a desperate measure and given international support to the CSA (although not from Britain or France). The USA should be given the choice if and when to free the slaves, alienating the border states if too soon, appearing as desperation when the CSA is doing well. Only about 5% of USA troops were black but 1/2 the war was fought without them. USA reinforcements should be decreased by 10% from 1863 (allowing for training) on the game schedules but increased by 10% after freeing slaves. This would only affect the number of new units per turn by 1 or 2 in either game. Much harder to quantify is the effect on the South. The CSA only considered black troops as a desperate measure, considering the Southern bigotry this could not have been a success. When the slaves knew that they could flee North without being subject to the fugitive slave law or being used as contraband, there as little reason (except fear) to remain. The South used a great number of slaves to labour for the army, they were able to slip across the lines if not adequately guarded. The possible loss of black manpower to the South meant more front line troops being used to guard slaves plus less slaves on the plantations and food for the troops. Freeing the slaves should increase USA manpower by 10% but not freeing should increase CSA manpower (available for the front) as well, perhaps by 10% (wild guess).


In conclusion both games are very much the same sort of thing. They both allow the Civil War to be replayed as in the books with a few variations in what happened when if not where. They leave big gaps in simulating why the states behaved as they did but any game that did that would be closer to a political simulation than a military game (I would still buy it). Both games play in much the same way so if you own one there is little point in buying the other. To those who have neither, Civil War is easily the best game. The pulse system gives plenty of tension, losing the initial 2D6 comparison roll can be a setback, the USA's plans can be messed up by an unexpectedly short game turn. Bad use of the command points can lead to disasters of immense proportions. After a few games play settles to a move counter-move situation between pairs of stacks, only broken by the USA attempting to seize poorly protected ports. War For The Union is a safer game that looks a lot smarter, graphics have improved a lot in the last few years. Play is less smooth, different troop types and 3 and 12 month interphases break up the rhythm of the game. Players who prefer safe open fire and slippers types of games (like XTR rattle out) should go for this. Real Gamers (with a deliberate G) should go for Civil War, as the better gaming (systems wise) experience. Anyone purely interested in the history could pick either, the scales of 5,000 men to a strength point mean that certain actions cannot be shown, notably guerrilla raids but all the major events can be simulated with either game.


 Gareth Simon

"The latest issue (of ZOCo) arrived this morning, most appropriately as someone is coming round this evening to buy my copy of Civil War. I'm almost tempted to change my mind now. I have played it 3 or 4 times, several years ago, and enjoyed it but when the S&T version came out, we took to that instead, as it was only 1 map sheet and had most of the same rules. As I recall, SPI had advertised an ACW game just before they collapsed. I always assumed that the designers who went off to found Victory games took the design with them and expanded it into Civil War. A year or so later when TSR began to complete the left over designs, they found the original draft of Civil War and ran it as the magazine game. There were remarkable similarities ... and it was as good, shorter and smaller .


Ellis Simpson


"I very much enjoyed the essay on the 2 Civil War games. I would agree, substantially, with your observations and in particular your conclusions. I prefer the Victory product because of the systems but I find it difficult to complete any length of game. This is because most of my gaming tends to be done in snatches and I duly have to concentrate on this one for a fair amount of time at each sitting.