Blue vs. Grey, the Civil War card game (QED)
2 playings; 5 hours (CSA wins)
This non-collectable card game is sold as 2 sets, North and South but you need both to play. The rules are printed on some of the cards, 1 set in each pack. This is handy for reference but hard to read through. There is a full rules set with the latest revisions on the QED web site as well as a sample game and Q&As, all worth downloading.
The cards are mostly combat units or commanders but also include a limited number of events that generally affect combat. Also there is the map. 4 map cards are laid out at the start of the game and the map spreads out as the other 7 map cards are drawn. Both players share copies of the missing map sections, the South must play a section when the card is drawn but the USA can hold on to the card. There is some variation on a few of the cards with a neutral or pro-South Kentucky and some changes in coastal port holdings. It is not possible to put down a map card unless it fits on to the other cards, it must be held until ready. The lack of a crucial card can stop any action in the West for some time or prevent USA capture of Southern ports. Perhaps this represents political decisions restricting the generals’ actions. The map is the strong and weak part of the game as it cleverly restricts where you can go when but also tends to fly apart in use. I have put all the cards in protective wallets so that I can fix the map down.
Small circular counters are placed on the map to show how far the sides have advanced during the war. The maps are divided into cities and such connected with rail and water lines. Attacks can be made along these lines to adjacent enemy held points. Some commanders can attack 2 points in advance but I have yet to work out the strategic use of this other than in raids. There is no allocation of units to points as in For the People, all combat cards are set in the West or East. If an attack is made in that theatre any force in that theatre can defend or attack. A force can only attack once per turn but the same point can be attacked many times (twice is the likely limit) in the same turn. A defending force can defend the same point any number of times but may get progressively weaker. Otherwise forces in the same theatre can be swapped around to defend different points of attack.
The number of possible attacks and the ability of forces to recover are governed by supply. Each turn the players can draw a number of supply points or cards. The Union must draw at least 2 cards, the CSA 1. The total of both drawn depends on how they are both doing but at best the USA will draw 5 and the CSA 4. If less cards are drawn there will be fewer generals or armies to fight. The extra supply is required to attack, 1 point per attack, and to recover damaged units. Any infantry card can take 2 losses and cavalry 1. A part damaged card is flipped sideways and 3 of these depleted cards can be replenished for 1 supply. Totally destroyed cards require a point each to recover. The basic turn is, draw cards and organise, then attack followed by recovery. If some supply is kept back it can be used to sort out some of the losses from that turn’s attacks before the enemy has a go at the depleted units.
The concept of organising armies and leaders is the least innovative part of the game and is pretty familiar to all. Generals are overall or sub and can command a certain number of units or sub-commanders. All generals must have troops in command to be in play and sub-commanders cannot order other sub-commanders. Infantry or cavalry units can be used without commanders but with limited effect. Generals and combat units are all rated for strength and the order in which they are drawn together with the way commands are put together will determine how strong forces are. Due to the limit of 1 attack per army it is often better to have 2 fair armies instead of 1 mega-force as 1 can rest while the other fights on or 2 points can be threatened at once.
Combat is a shock to those used to counting good odds and ensuring a success. 1 D6 is rolled for result and another for casualties. A 1,2 will be a loss, 5,6 a win, 3 is a loss unless 1 side has a better initiative general (ratings are 0,1,2). On a 4 a side that is 5 larger will win. There is a bonus of 5 combat points for CSA units in pestholes (swamps, Shenandoah, Wilderness), +1 to the dice for 10 extra combat points and –1 in forts. As both sides forces are exposed it is possible to see what the force numbers are before attacks are declared but both sides can add more units from their hands to the army if they have got them and the units will fit into the command structure. These reserves will prevent exact odds counting. The number of units lost depends on who wins or draws and the number of troop (not general) cards in play. Unless 1 side is routed or losses are heavy the number of loss steps can be taken by flipping all involved units at worst. If some units are already flipped or you have had a bad day some will be eliminated and require 3 times as much supply to get back. The CSA is at a disadvantage here as its combat units are smaller so a large force will have more units in it and take more losses. This will reduce the number of CSA attacks as supply is conserved to flip units back. In general both sides are going to be in a mess after all but the smallest battle. Not an uncommon problem in ACW gaming.
In some ways this system is superior to For the People as most cards are military and decisions relate to hoarding supply/re-organising against offensives. There is no trade off between a political and military action as when a For the People card is used for operations or as the stated event. On the other hand I prefer For the People as it is less fiddly and there are more things to do.
The basic thread of Blue vs Grey encourages a lot of attacks, count the cards, roll the dice, take your medicine. The best hope for the North is to build up enough troops and supplies to attack in more places than the CSA can defend ensuring some victories and clearing enough territory to win. The CSA will be counter-attacking battered armies and threatening the North, more attacks. The game is also relatively long, card games give a feeling of needing to be over in an hour but you will be at it much longer here. The need to lay out cards in commands and turn infantry sideways as it takes a single hit and recovers is also more fiddly than moving counters on tracks or a map. Perhaps this game is half as good but costs half the price and is still pretty clever, full marks for mechanisms.
In both my games the North did pretty well but not good enough to gain a victory, the South won by attrition the 1st time and through Lincoln losing the 1864 election next playthrough. Unlike most ACW games the USA starts with a Washington garrison that is going nowhere making a CSA capture of Washington unlikely although it might get isolated. In of my games the USA had made substantial inroads into the South. 1 game had Richmond and Atlanta taken but most of the West still in rebel hands as the base thrusts had been in the East. The other time the USA swept across the West but was beaten back from Chatanooga to the Mississippi, occupation of most of Virginia failed to make up for this.
The cards deserve a few words as the majority of each card is taken up with a suitable picture and a commentary on the subject (often pithy). This does not leave a lot of space for the actual game effect of the card. Combat and subordinate ratings are easy to spot but special rules and identification of late war cards are in pretty small font. I failed to discard some late war cards immediately because I missed their designation but picked them out before any harm was done. This is partly because I am playing in the attic with limited space to keep games set up safely away from the kids. The cards are of typical CCG standard and I have reluctantly decided to wallet them as I fear that repeated playing could wear off the surface. This does make the turning and shuffling easier. There is talk of an expansion on the Trans-Mississippi, more maps and hero cards. If it comes out I will have to track it down but there are no firm plans yet (July 99).