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Posted on Aug 4, 2008 in Electronic Games

Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States PC game review

By Larry Levandowski

Movement in War Between the States is easy. With a few clicks the player selects the commanders to move and then either marches the troops or has them use strategic movement. Strategic transport capacity is tracked by region and can be boosted by building and stationing water transports. Long-distance travel is best accomplished with a combination of rail, river and ocean movement. Enemy activity such as cavalry raids and guerrillas will sometimes cut rail links, so the smart player will keep cavalry around to spoil enemy raids.

Strategic movement is an area where GGWBTS shines. The Civil War was the first major conflict in which strategic rail movement brought huge shifts to the conduct of the entire war. GGWBTS wonderfully models the possibilities of rail and water transport to add historic character to gameplay. As in the real war, the South can compensate for lack of troops by quickly moving entire corps from one theater to another. Therefore, trying to cut the South’s major rail and water routes, becomes a major strategic goal for the North, as it was historically in Sherman’s March to Sea or the campaign to control the Mississippi River.


GGWBTS also plays true to history is in modeling the factors that made deep strategic thrusts difficult. Despite the fact that Richmond and Washington are very close to each other, it took almost three years for the North to launch a successful invasion in the East. Just as it was difficult for George "Little Mac" McClellan to cross the Rappahannock and march his Union Army of the Potomac down to Richmond, so too, sustained offensives are hard to start and keep moving in War Between the States.

As in the real war, some leaders are better at moving out of their cozy encampments than others. Finding aggressive leaders and organizing them into effective corps commands is a critical job. Then, there is the issue of supply. Troops can forage, but to be truly effective the player will need to establish a chain of depots along good road and rail lines. Finally, the defender has a significant advantage in the turn sequence. While movement is you-go-I-go, there is a reaction phase in which the defender can use road and rail moves to reinforce regions under attack. All of these factors will have players thinking that maybe Little Mac wasn’t such a bad general after all.

Troop quality plays a big part in keeping the player’s strategy on track. Well-trained units fight much better in War Between the States, but most infantry and cavalry forces start life as barely trained militia. Pairing these raw units with leaders who can train them is the only way to build a force that doesn’t run the first time they "see the elephant," as Civil War soldiers called the first experience in battle. Some commanders are better at training than others, so establishing training groups around these generals is also a key strategy.

Combat in the game is handled automatically, but the player can watch a text readout and victory bar as the computer resolves battles. While the graphics are bland, combat is still fun to watch. Troops are added to fight realistically. Just as at Gettysburg, GGWBTS fights start small, then grow to huge scale as the full force of each army is brought to bear.

Cavalry also has a nice historic effect on combat. Many historians argue that good cavalry reconnaissance would have kept Lee from losing at Gettysburg. In GGWBTS, cavalry reconnaissance gives attackers a much better chance of success. Defenders can use cavalry to screen enemy cavalry probes and obscure the attacker’s view.

While there is an occasional outcome that seems a little skewed, overall combat results have a nice historic feel to them.

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1 Comment

  1. An excellent and accurate review. I’ve been playing the game for about 6 weeks now and Larry nailed this review.

    It’s worth noting that a few modders have already started to work on the unit graphics, especially the bland NATO-style graphics, and come up with some mods that look much better than the stock graphics. Information on how to find these can be found at the Matrix forums.


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