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Posted on Jul 25, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

AGEOD’s American Civil War Review

By Larry Levandowski

Passed Inspection: The sweep, pageantry and magnitude of the American Civil War in one great game.

Failed Basic: PBEM implementation is clumsy. Turn processing takes a very long time. Organization of units can be confusing.

With apologies to William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust; every wargamer longs to experience that instant when it’s not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863. Pickett’s division is in position, and across the field the Union center awaits. Maybe this time, with so much in the balance, the South will take the day. Maybe, just maybe the high-water mark of the South ends in Washington and not at some obscure clump of trees along the Union line. AGEOD’s American Civil War, published by Matrix Games, takes the player back to the grand strategic sweep of that greatest of American trials. All of the historic logistics and military challenges of this massive conflict are presented in a wonderful game that is a delight for the strategy player. The game has an addictive "just one more turn" pull that will make it a classic. Could the South have won against the Union? Civil War has given us a great way to pose the question, and then see if we have what it takes to answer.


In ACW, the player fills the boots of the supreme commander of Southern or Northern forces during the Civil War. Scenarios start as early as April 1861, and cover the entire conflict or just one theater. Each turn is half a month of game time, and played over colorful region-based maps that span locations as far as Tucson, Canada and the Caribbean. The basic unit is a brigade, made up of individual regiments. Brigades are combined with historic generals and organized into divisions, corps and armies. The game has a cornucopia of unit types including infantry, skirmishers, raiders, militia, cavalry, steam ships, ironclads and various types of artillery. Each player plots their movement by dragging and dropping a formation to the target region. Forces can be given one of four stances that determine aggressiveness. When the player has finished plotting movement, the game executes plots simultaneously by day, so that well planned attack may find that the enemy has skedaddled.

Civil War is a complex, but deeply satisfying game. It will offer many, many hours of excellent game play, but is not a good choice for someone who is looking for a quick romp into Civil War strategy. All of the details grognards love to baste in are the game. The map has hundreds of regions, each rated for terrain, development, ease of transit and loyalty. Control of regions is not absolute, with most having some support for both sides. Major cities are rated for victory points, depots, forts and contribution to the war effort. Units are rated for number of troops, readiness, ranged weapon fire and a host of other factors. Generals are ranked for seniority, offensive and defensive skills, and they also have special abilities like fast mover, or reckless. In short, all of the detail a player could ever want is there.

For the interface, AGEOD has developed an easy-to-use layout that has a wonderful period feel. The map and unit counters look like an expensive board game, with fine wood framed portraits of the generals, and troops wearing different types of uniforms. Political and economic initiatives, like the South’s decision to stop cotton shipments to Europe, are executed in virtual ledger books, by pen stroke. Extensive tool-tips give the player all the important details on unit stacks, and region details. While the interface has a few quirks, once a player has some turns under his or her belt, it becomes second nature.

After the disastrous Bull Run campaign, one of George McClellan’s great contributions to the Northern war effort was the reorganization of the Union Army. Likewise, one of the more important aspects of fighting in ACW is management of divisions, corps and armies. Combat units fight and move better when in a full command structure. Assignment of generals to division, corps and army commands must be done with care, as seniority and ability must be considered. Creating a new division causes some momentary loss of ability while the unit gathers, so reorganization is best not done with the enemy in the next region. While organization of forces is almost a sub game, it is not always easy since the information on what general belongs to what organization can take some effort to sift through when there are large numbers of troops on the field.

In the real Civil War, Stonewall Jackson had a voracious appetite for maps and information on road conditions. This was because moving and maintaining armies in 1860s America was just as important as winning battles. The game wonderfully captures this point, and logistics is a strong part of game play. In ACW, the player wins by following the advice of that controversial Southern cavalryman, Nathan B. Forrest, get there fast with the most men. To do this, the player can have his troops ride on rail or river transport, or when that is not possible, slog it out over country roads. Meanwhile, maintenance of supply routes and depots in the rear, keep the men happy and fed. Union players quickly understand why it was so difficult for the Union to just march down to Richmond and end the war quickly.

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  1. Most of my ACW gaming has been at the tactical level, but only because I was waiting for a game like this. If you enjoy ACW gaming, this one is a must!

  2. Truly fantastic ACW game! AGEOD team still makes patches and improves the game and it is now very close to perfect. Historical accuracy is almost 100%, turn processing is much, much faster and map and rail roads are 100% correct due to the work of community.
    Year has gone by and AGEOD forum is still very alive and players are praising this game. I have never in my long gaming life played one game for so long as I play this one and I doubt that I will stop it anytime soon.


  3. Being a little more than casual gamer, I found this game very difficult at first. However, I kept at it (the game) being intrigued at the time period. After several trial runs and a little forum reading, I finally resigned myself to play it through regardless of the outcome (its not like this is THE CIVIL WAR, what did I have to lose). At one point I was clicking various pieces just learning the ways to manipulate it. As the game went on, I began to understand how to form military units.With all the difficulties turned down, it was still a very challenging game to strategize. The A I was actually fun to play and after a little trial and error and understanding of why the game mechanics do what they do…this game jumped, no soared to the top of the list of games I enjoy spending time to play. To play this game, you have no choice than to spend time, like any strategy game worth any merit.


  5. I have not played the game yet — still about halfway through manual — but the tool tips shows that the bugle in upper right corner is for advancing turns. Have you tried this?