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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

Politics and economics are somewhat abstracted, but are still important in terms of gameplay. Political decisions like enacting conscription are hit-the-button-type events. Production has a little more depth, and players can spend production points on goodies like ironclad flotillas, heavy artillery batteries, factories, supplies and water transports. Interestingly, the player has no direct control over infantry production. States will produce militia— sometimes even trained infantry—only when they want to. This may be historical, but many wargamers will grouse at the lack of control.

Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States has a medium level of complexity and is not a game for light, casual play. Learning how to play takes some time, and even seasoned players may require two or three games before they are comfortable with all of the features. Fortunately, the game comes out of the box with some nice video and standard tutorials. There is a bit of a disconnect between the two tutorial formats, and some features like production are not covered fully, but overall, they offer quite a bit of help. For those who want more detailed information, a well-rounded manual is available as well.


The game comes with three scenarios. The full-war scenario starts in July of 1861; the other scenarios start in 1862 and ’63. Computer generals can easily spend several evenings playing through the full-war scenario.

The player can choose to automate production, and there are nice optional rules such as fog of war and randomizing leader attributes. All of these features extend the game’s replay value somewhat. There is no integrated editor, and while it is possible for someone with some technical background to sift through the scenario data files and modify settings and graphics, for most of us, replay is limited by too few scenarios and the lack of an editor.

The game supports PBEM play, but the AI is pretty good and will provide a great sparring partner. While Robo Billy Yank sometimes loses focus, he will come at the player with a heavy hammer, particularly in the West. He also freely uses ships to pick off weak spots all along the Confederacy’s coastline. Facing Robo Johnny Reb is also a challenge; during one game, this reviewer was horrified when the Southern AI followed a failed and retreating Northern invasion force back into Maryland. Washington was surrounded, and it took almost a year for this reviewer’s Northern troops to kick the Rebs back across the Rappahannock.

The game’s peresentation is effective, with few frills. Graphics are professional but won’t win any awards. Neither will the music and sound effects, but they do add to the immersion factor. Each unit type has a different graphic, but there is not much detail and no animation. The game also does not provide much in the way of background or historical descriptions. Players for whom these things are critical may want to check out other games.
In the final measure, Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States is highly recommended for turn-based strategy fans. Anyone looking for a grand game of the Civil War will find it to be just what Mr. Lincoln ordered. Players new to strategy gaming or those looking for light fare might find it a little too deep for their tastes, but if you yearn to try your hand where Jefferson Davis failed, Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States should not be missed.

Armchair General Score: 83%

Larry Levandowski has been a wargamer for more than 30 years, and started computer gaming back in the days of the C-64. Until he recently discovered the virtues of DOS box, much of his computer game collection was unplayable. A former U.S. Army officer, Larry has done his share of sitting in foxholes. Since leaving the Army, he has worked in the Information Technology field, as a programmer, project manager and lead bottle washer. He now spends his spare time playing boardgames, Napoleonic and WWII miniatures, as well as any PC game he can get his hands on.


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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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