Decisive Battles of the American Civil War, Vol. 1 lets you take the place of commanding generals in six battles of the American Civil War: first Bull Run, Shiloh, second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. In that role, players not only issue orders but take actions such as sleeping and determining their level of personal participation in the battle. Players also experience the inverse relationship of responsibility to control. Orders can only be issued to brigades near the mobile command center, and objectives set only at the division level, with some variation per historic orders of battle. Subordinates, who are rated by leadership and experience, will then adapt these orders to their view of the battle, to the point of taking actions quite different from their orders. Once they're out of communications range, players can only hope for sound judgement or miraculous foresight.
The result is a fast-paced simulation (one hour per turn) of important moments in Civil War history. In some battles, the player has just one or two opportunities to issue orders to a significant portion of the army. At a distance, the enemy is invisible, and intelligence on enemy units prior to engagement is limited to formations. Upon engagement, casualty counts and morale are the player's main focus. Players may override subordinate orders to pull nearby brigades into reserve, although one turn's hesitation can demonstrate how quickly a cohesive resource of men and artillery can become useless on the battlefield.
Two-thirds of the play screen are devoted to a scrollable map, supplemented by a printed map sheet showing all of the battlefields. The other third of the screen gives terrain and unit descriptions, battle reports, and terse command menus. Victory is determined by a tally of casualties and controlled objectives. Difficulty can be varied in a number of ways, most notably by toggling full communication and invisible movement. Two players may face-off in hot-seat mode, or a single player may face the computer or just observe the computer controlling both sides. The game manual describes in detail how combat effectiveness and other key calculations are made. Two design utilities allow what-if modifications of the included scenarios as well as creation of entirely new ones on custom maps and terrain.
The American Civil War has been a popular choice for wargamers for some time now. Board games abound, covering everything from individual conflicts to the entire theater of war. When viewed as a whole, it seemed that the Union had all the advantages, with abundant manpower, resources, and infrastructure. Yet the Confederacy demonstrated time and again their superiority on the battlefield. The deciding factor in each battle was the leadership that drove the conflict. In Decisive Battles of the Civil War, you get a taste of what it was like to be a battlefield commander, with victory or defeat stemming from your decisions.
The game consists of 30 different scenarios from the American Civil War. The scenarios cover most of the major battles, from the first major engagement of the war at Bull Run to arguably the most important battle, Gettysburg. Indeed, Gettysburg is actually split up into two scenarios, representing Day 1 and Day 2 of the conflict. Combat is done at the brigade level, so your units represent anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand soldiers. As in most Civil War games, the three main types of troops are infantry, cavalry, and artillery.
As you might be able to tell from the screenshots, this game tends to lean towards complexity, and as such I advise downloading the manual with the game. Included with the documentation are some excellent tutorials that will get you started on some of the easier scenarios, getting you into the action quickly. Once you cut your teeth on a few of these tutorials, the full manual offers all the information you need to get the most from your soldiers.
Your typical game turn consists of giving orders to your units and then executing those orders. Your units can be given specific orders, such as defend, take an objective, and of course engage the enemy. What sets this game apart from others in the genre lies with your units themselves. They are not simple puppets, awaiting your orders for everything. They will give their own orders according to what they think is best. Of course you can override their decisions if you feel the need, but this makes it easier to slide into the gameplay as you can give general objectives and they will take care of the individual actions.
To add even more complexity, you can control how you interact with your units. Instead of playing a floating entity with the ability to tell every unit what to do, you can choose to represent a physical commander on the field. That means that you can only give orders to those units that are close enough to receive them. Since each unit is led by a leader with a rating for his command, you will have to decide where your direct intervention will best serve your forces and move your overall commander there to ensure your orders are carried out. Since you are a physical unit, you are subject to attacks and can be eliminated, severely limiting your side's ability to react to enemy actions. This is something wargames rarely do, but it more accurately depicts the realities of combat on a battlefield.
The scenarios are relatively short, with a strict turn limit imposed. Victory is achieved via a point system, with points awarded for kills and objectives completed. An editor exists, so you can tweak the scenarios and even create new ones if you desire. I recommend checking out the scenario descriptions included with the manual, as it gives you the historical background and even recommends some tweaks based on historical what-ifs. Whenever you start the map, you can go into the options for a side to get advice on how to proceed, giving you an idea of your overall goal. Overall, this is a fine game with a good amount of depth and strategy. However, the complexity of the game will keep people away from it, and you really shouldn't start with this game if you are looking to get into wargaming. I give it 2 out of 5.
This game actually includes Volumes 1-3 of the series, which were originally released separately. This is a part of SSG's Battlefront system, which is used in several other games.
Decisive Battles of the Civil War is also a part of The Definitive Wargame Collection.
People who downloaded Decisive Battles of American Civil War Vol. 1 have also downloaded:
Decisive Battles of American Civil War Vol. 2, Decisive Battles of American Civil War Vol. 3, Civil War Generals 2, American Civil War: From Sumter To Appomattox, Fields of Glory, Defend the Alamo, D-Day: The Beginning of the End, Gary Grigsby's Pacific War (2000)
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