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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

Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States PC game. 2 by 3 Games, Matrix Games. $59.99

Passed Inspection: No-nonsense Strategy Gaming. Great depiction of the role of leaders in the American Civil War. Excellent video tutorials.

Failed Basic: Replay value is limited by too few scenarios and no editor.

Finding aggressive leaders and organizing them into effective corps commands is a critical job.

The American Civil War would seem to be a great material for a computer strategy game, but only a few games have tried to tackle the subject since DOS’ heyday, and many of those quickly fell into bargain-bin oblivion.


The theme is complex. Many early games never managed to achieve the right mix of military, economic and political factors necessary to build a believable simulation. But the barrier of complexity has been breeched, and in the last few years strategy gamers have been blessed with a trio of great games depicting the war of North and South. The most recent is Gary Grisby’s War Between the States (GGWBTS) from 2 by 3 Games and Matrix Games. Its polished, no-nonsense presentation and competent AI offer engrossing strategy gaming that requires some effort to learn and master. Computer generals willing to invest that last full measure of devotion are guaranteed to keep coming back for one more charge. Because of the game’s depth and lack of frills, however, those seeking a light, fast-playing game should probably look elsewhere.

At first glance, GGWBTS seems to be a clone of 2 by 3’s successful World War II–grand-strategy game, Gary Grigsby’s World at War. Much of the interface and basic flow do borrow heavily from the former game, but don’t get the idea that GGWBTS is just a World War II game sporting a cartridge pouch full of minie balls. It uniquely captures the military stage of 1860s America. Make no mistake, this is a Civil War game, and it proudly carries its own regimental colors.

Gameplay consists of one-month turns on a region-based map. Each player has two phases, one for movement and the other for unit production. The map stretches from the U.S. East Coast to the edge of Texas. The basic color scheme and layout look like a period wall map: somewhat bland, but with nicely drawn features such as hills, forests and rail lines. Details of each region—and for that matter anything on the map—are easy to access with pop-ups that follow the player’s mouse. Units represent individual regiments, artillery batteries, flotillas, and leaders. Clicking on a region will bring up a display of all leaders, their attached regiments, and any independent units. In crowded regions, the display is busy and confusing at first, but players will soon adjust to the information load and even learn to love having so much data at their fingertips.

Generals are probably the most important units; the management and organization of leaders is almost a game unto itself. GGWBTS even comes with several video tutorials to demonstrate key points of the leadership system. Combat units need to be attached to leaders; otherwise, those units can’t do much more than serve as static garrisons. But the player can’t just attach any unit to anyone. Commanders come in types: infantry, engineer, artillery, cavalry, administration, and naval. Any leader can command anything, but all do better commanding their particular troop types, so assigning artillery units to artillery commanders, and cavalry to cavalry leaders can give the player a big advantage. Higher-level organization is also very important. When leaders are in command range of competent corps and theater commanders, they gain movement and combat bonuses. Leaders are rated for almost a dozen factors, and can even gain and lose points with experience. Finding, promoting and assigning the right man for the job is like Fantasy League Baseball for wargamers.

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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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