For The People
Playings 4, 2 Rebel win, 2 Yankee (9 hours)
My cunning plan of only buying heavily discounted or 2nd hand games has broken down with the purchase of For The People not long after it hit these shores. The lack of independent reviews is never a problem, as I have preferred to make up my own mind about games and fix anything that I consider wrong. Take note that the civil war General that came out close to this game appearing does not cover For The People. The playthrough of Successors is tempting and there are counters for a 5th player (no rules though). The civil war stuff is restricted to Civil War and Across 5 Aprils, definitely a missed opportunity and enough to make me put the issue back on the shelf.
For The People looks and plays like a cross of A House Divided and We The People. There is also a strong element of Civil War in there. It has a broader view of history than your average civil war game. Consider my 1st playing where the Rebs got off to good start by having all 3 of the border-states vote to secede. They then cranked up a lot of Strategic Will (what you need to win) points by raiding Indiana and Illinois. Another game saw the Union win by ravaging huge chunks of the South despite a late game Rebel capture of Washington. Umpteen civil war games prepare one for the possible early game capture of Washington or a lot of delaying actions with a steadily decreasing Southern manpower pool. The Rebs do pretty well for men here averaging 15 a turn to the North’s 20 but will have a lot of strength points stuck around ports because the Southern railroad system is not good enough to get everyone to the front (7 a turn at best). The famous Union blockade is heavily card dependent, it may be quick or it could be insignificant. Certainly For The People players can expect the unexpected when simulating the war.
The designer’s notes bill For The People as the 3rd not 4th in the series, clearly Successors is seen as an independent branch from Hannibal. For The People is much closer to We The People than Hannibal not just in the map but in the use of cards for events. The events will often be so marginal or closed to the owning side that they will be played as operations. Brazil recognises the Confederacy gives a poor 5 (from memory) Strategic Will, unless the Rebs are about to loose or win they will play the event as an operation perhaps saving a state for around 10 Strategic Will. There is no separate list of what the event cards are based on although I recognise most of them. As in We The People a great many are a weak excuse for a reinforcement or bonus movement. The events are taken from throughout the war; leading to odd time lapses when they are played. A handy card gets the CSA 2 forts based on pre-war munitions but these forts may get built in 1864. Union sea or river moves are based on campaign cards or special events. If the Union has a handful of these in 1861 he will be hitting the beaches because they are good cards and the rebel ports are not going to get any weaker. Apart from the foreign intervention (Union blockade reduced and 10 CSA Strategic Will) all the cards appear to be historical. The game is crying out for a few variant cards based on might have beens. The Rebs acquiring AK-47s through a time warp is pushing this (the subject of a real novel) but certain possible events could have been put onto cards. This requires further thought but for a start the South could win big at Valverde (New Mexico joins Confederacy) or allow limited recruitment of almost free slaves (something they actually did). I believe the best approach is to have alternative renditions for certain numbered cards. I will dig out the civil war book (Terrible Swift Sword by James McSomething) and look into this. Game balance is for nerds anyway.
The Go mechanics of placing PCs are gone further restricting the use of operations cards. They can only be placed in spaces with a friendly unit. This placement is also given free at the end of a turn so will rarely require spending operations points. PCs can be placed in vacant border state hexes while these are neutral. There is a Strategic Will bonus for converting states plus the territory comes in handy so both players will look to place PCs in the 1st couple of turns. It is likely that one player has a better hand for this than the other virtually ensuring 2 of the 3 border-states. Having sewn up all 3 border states there is very little need to play cards to place PCs. Other uses are building forts (2 points), firing generals (any card but with Strategic Will penalties), forming armies (essential) and moving. Most cards will be used for moving after 2 or 3 armies (out of a maximum of 4) are built up.
Armies are the key moving pieces of the game, only 1 (the Potomac bunch) starts in play. When built they allow up to 3 generals to add their tactical modifiers to a battle die roll and can convert spaces as they move by paying 2 movement points per box entered. If an army fights a force that is not an army the army may have a bonus from 3 generals and the other force only from 1; with good generals this will bring victory. Naturally the South have the best early game generals with the Union catching up later. The basic combat system is similar to Civil War. General casualties can be high; a 50% chance of loss on a modified die roll of 10. This makes generals more likely to die if several are present (fair) or if a force attacks by a much smaller force (unfair) because more modifiers increases the chance of general loss. One game saw Grant and Lee die before they were promoted to army command. The South have more cavalry generals, these reduce an army’s die bonus if the opponent has cavalry but you do not. Cavalry generals can also be used to cut communications so you can do Gettysberg with Stuart attempting to cut off the Yankees but not being available to help the Rebel army who consequently get beat. The high incidence of general death reduces the Reb cavalry advantage as the war proceeds.
As in Civil War new generals are placed face down and are revealed on use. Cavalry generals are an exception and there are less generals overall so a player placing new generals will have an increased chance of knowing who is where. Lee for instance arrives with cavalry generals so the Reb player will know that Lee is available and can place him in a suitable spot. The rules get hazy around her as generals can be replaced based on their political ratings and as new generals have no rating and you are not supposed to peek I presume that they cannot be promoted. There will also be a flush of wounded and displaced generals to put on the map with the new generals. These have been previously revealed so I suppose can be put down face up. If all this is right the best place for a new general is with an army. This is bound to lead to combat and revealing the general’s rating, he can then be placed in command or moved to another stack. If a new general is placed on some out of the way stack ready for a flanking push he may never get to move because cards are used for something else and he will have to activated for the default 3 points regardless of his real activation rating.
While mentioning sticky parts of the rules Rebel river crossings are vague. According to the rules the Union has control of all rivers except where blocked by Rebel forts. If the Union has control of a section of river then the Rebs cannot cross at certain points. Using these rules the Rebs can have a fort at the top and bottom of the Mississippi and cross pretty much anywhere in between. These rivers all branch and offer access to large chunks of the Western map area, making control of them pretty important. By placing a fort at either end the Mississippi the Union dockyards at St. Louis are marginalised. It would be better if the sections or river were defined so a fort in West Virginia does not affect river crossings in Louisiana. Alternatively Union forts could be used to define areas of river control in a similar way to Rebel forts. All this requires is that the Union controls all stretches of river that are either free of CSA forts or that are between 2 USA forts not separated by a CSA fort. Makes sense to me anyway.
On the simulation front the rules state that a player may only use 1 minor or major campaign card as an event in each hand. The others can only be played for operations points. It seems that the dreaded balance merchants have been at play here. It is good hand that has several of these cards and having played the rules wrong I can say that it is well useful. Going back to correct play a force could move once with the campaign card and continue to move if the other campaign cards are played as movement operations on that force. It will have moved just as far and fought as often as if it had been the subject of multiple campaign cards. Of course with campaign cards other forces will also have been active but these are likely to be out of contact with our example force. There is no excuse in terms of simulated time or events to ban multiple campaign use. If you like to live dangerously allow multiple campaign play.
I should point out that I have been playing solitaire as with most of my games. Despite the card-based system this plays very well solitaire, the best of this series and better than Civil War because the cards restrict what either player can do and break up long term plans. There are very few interrupt cards so I play by dealing both hands and checking the Reb hand for campaign cards that allow him to go 1st. If there are none I play the Union. If after playing a card I discover that the opposition held a card that would negate that option I play the anti-card and undo the last action. Otherwise cards are generally played in the order of the most useful 1st. I tend to try out slightly wacky ideas that would be very risky in a face to face game but there is no one watching and I am doing this for fun. Apart from these risky game plays the only big drawback to solitaire play of the game is knowing that the opposition is not holding back some good card to catch me off guard. Some allowance has to be made for forgetting what is in the opposition’s hand, the usual all knowing problem with solitaire play.
I now have all the games in this series and rather too many ACW games. In my opinion Successors is the most fun to play and has the best atmosphere of the series but For The People wins on the solitaire front. If I want an ACW historical game it has to be Civil War although it is rather too long for my tastes. For The People is about the right length, A House Divided has more class but is too short and too small. War For The Union looks good but never lived up to Civil War, For The People just about beats it as well. Brother Against Brother is a fiddlers game, I have changed it a lot to get a simple monster game although I would still rate it below For The Union.