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Posted on May 22, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

HPS Campaign Vicksburg Review

By Mike Tomlin

The Union player’s ultimate objective is of course to occupy Vicksburg and in the process to destroy or capture the Confederate army. The Confederates have to attempt to deny Vicksburg to the Union, or at the very least to preserve their forces. Due to the nature of the campaign, the Union player, except for an initial encounter after crossing a river, must win every engagement to continue the advance and succeed in the campaign. Likewise, the Confederates need only inflict one defeat. This gives a definite character to the game, and focuses the Rebel gamer on the need to always think of the next battle and preserve his forces, once a defeat looks probable. Fight, retreat and fight again is the order of the day. His last task at Vicksburg, if all other options have failed, is to try and achieve a successful breakout and exit as many troops as possible via certain hexes.

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Without doubt the Confederates played the original campaign badly, but were hamstrung by the constant need to garrison and screen Vicksburg, even with a Union army in their rear. Here is the opportunity to try and come up with a better strategy and use your developing tactical skills. The Rebels are almost always outnumbered but have the advantage of being able to accept a draw in a fight whereas the Union side must always win, which has a definite effect on strategy in this game.

Where the game does differ from many of its predecessors, and where there is some criticism, is in the complexity of the campaign decision tree. In other games players have become used to seeing three, sometimes four, options to choose from, giving nine or more variations of result. Without exception both sides only have two available options each turn, resulting in only four permutations of result, which not only limits the variety but also the long term replayability of the game. A few more would have been nice but it can be argued that the nature of the campaign resulted in fewer choices.

This is not a game where constant careless attacking will achieve results in the long run. Instead, manoeuvre and the steady build up of defensive lines and attacking forces, supported by adequate reserves and carefully sited artillery, is the way to win. Control of units and maintaining organisational structures is essential. Reinforcements arrive at scheduled intervals throughout many battles and must be used correctly. The only way to fight a successful battle is to attempt to replicate the true tactics of the time with units moving and fighting in their brigades, divisions and corps, and with careful husbanding and usage of reserves. This not only provides a more historic feel to the game but will also achieve better results. As always, careful watching of flanks, particularly on these large maps, will be necessary, and will offer security, whether defending a line or advancing into the unknown.

The AI makes a good opponent for those unfamiliar with the game engine, but the game truly comes into its own when played against a human opponent , either by email or head to head. The user base for all these games is strong, with several clubs in existence covering players of all levels of ability. This, together with the capacity to produce new scenarios/campaigns via the included editors gives the game great replayability. Hot seat or PBEM options are available and as mentioned before the user community for these games is thriving and welcomes new members.

For the genre, the graphics are of decent quality with a variety of views available. Those more familiar with the high end graphics found in most real time strategy games these days will undoubtedly be disappointed, but if they can see past this should find the gaming experience rewarding. The sound is good with realistic weaponry effects and a variety of excellent songs from the period playable in the background. The controls are simple and easy to master, with a wide variety of options via mouse, keyboard or menu, and the interface is generally as good As any game of this type. The documentation and installation are up to HPS usual high standards.

Vicksburg is a great addition to the HPS stable, and offers a chance to play a campaign that has been rarely, if ever, attempted in a computer game. It has a distinctive flavour and the need for the Union to always achieve victory in the campaign elements provides an added dimension. More scenarios and a more complicated campaign offering a greater variety to the game would have been a nice touch. For aficionados of the series, and those interested in the Civil War, it is an excellent title to get. For those new to this period or type of game, it’s one that can be picked up and played quite easily, although true skill will only come with experience.

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