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Subject: A mini-review after one month of play rss

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Thierry Michel
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On recording today's (27/02/2016) play, I noticed I had played the game 14 times in exactly one month, so, basically, almost every other day.

After 50 hours or so, in about 6 campaigns, here's my informed opinion: this game is very addictive. Win or lose, you will come out of the game with new plans, things you would do differently, and strategies you will want to try. I can't compare it with its competition, because it's the only strategic-level game i have played on the US Civil War, but to me it's one of the best war games I have played, period.

Now, with this is out the way, here is why I am taken with this game.

The map:

The map, like the rest of the components, favors function over spectacle. It works, it is very readable, but it's not a work of art to hang on the wall (to me, opinions differ). The more one plays, however, the more on is impressed by the cleverness of the map design. Even though the game is strategic, the hex map, together with the supply rules, creates extremely interesting operational puzzles, where the player must balance aggressiveness with concerns for the supply line, ease of channeling reinforcements and possibility of occupying natural defensive positions. The map with all its size and its details offers both freedom of movement and a real challenge to progression. It is the central piece of the game, to me.

The mechanisms:

The game plays very smoothly, with alternating activation (the operational parts) where players move their armies and conduct combat, broken by periods of reinforcement and consolidation (the strategic parts) where player put fresh troops on the map and decide where to send them. After a while, the flow becomes natural, one gets an intuitive feel for the odds in combat, what special actions can achieve, and what each general is good for. The combat table, in particular, is both easy to read and understand and subtle in its effects, in particular the way it handles small engagements. For the combat itself, there are many decisions to take; the interaction of fortifications, the interception and avoid combat dynamics and the demoralization rules creates lots of friction, with the player taking calculated risks each step of the way.


The strategy:

The game has a built-in timer; the Union has a big advantage in numbers and mobility (thanks to naval superiority), but it has to make a steady progress. Every turn , the number of points required to stay in the war increases, and if the Union player falls too far behind, they lose. Though the player has complete control over where they bring the offensive, they have to be aggressive.

The Confederate is vastly outnumbered, and on the defensive during the whole game, but they can not just turtle up, or they are sure to slowly (or not-so-slowly, when I play this side) lose. To delay the Union, the Confederate has to mount threats against Northern territory. With better generals, they can and should push back and take every opportunity to be a nuisance to the bigger Union columns, by threatening their lines of communications or forcing them to take on fortified positions at a vast expense of time and men.

The game is not scripted, both players have certain things that I strongly recommend they do (coastal landings for the Union, fortifying the Mississippi for the South), but they have a great latitude in their strategies, and my games have all unfolded in different ways. As I said, refining the strategies and trying new things is a big part of the game's appeal.


Rules, balance issues:

As written above, the games plays smoothly, but, looking at the forums here and there, you could get that the impression that the rules are incomplete or ambiguous. The questions concern mainly some areas of the map, the advanced naval rules, and they way the two interact. 99% of the situations that occur in play are perfectly well handled by the rules as they are out of the box, for the 1% remaining you might want to look at the clarifications online - or make an amicable ruling on the spot and check later.

The question of play balance is a bit more troubling - in all of my games, I never once won with the South, and my more experienced opponent agreed that the South was more challenging to play. This does not detract from the experience, as we both feel the South should be harder to play, but it means that this side is very unforgiving. There is very little slack when playing the South, recovering from a string of bad luck or bad decisions is very hard. I feel reluctant to suggest modifications at this stage, though, because the way we play has evolved since we started, as I'm sure it will again, and we have not explored all of the strategic space of the game yet.


Length:

It's not a monster game, the setup is fast, the counter density is low, but it takes time. As relatively fast players, we manage to close a turn in one hour or so, and the game can go up to twenty turns (though I have yet to see it happen). It's a long game with a big map, simply, and all the better for it.

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Randy C
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Robert L Howard (Medal of Honor recipient)
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I have played 5 times and noticed the game is unbalanced.

I lost all 5. Did not matter which side I played.

PS. thanks for the review.
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Eric
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ThierryM wrote:

The map:

The map, like the rest of the components, favors function over spectacle. It works, it is very readable, but it's not a work of art to hang on the wall.


Maybe I'm the oddball here but the map is gorgeous and I would certainly frame this to hang on my wall. Truly a beauty to behold.
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Alan Sutton
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I think that is a superb review, well informed by a lot of plays. I am amazed you managed to play this so often in so short a time.

All very good and interesting points you raise. I am in the process off learning this ftf and your comments have been very helpful.

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Thierry Michel
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Moruya23 wrote:

I think that is a superb review, well informed by a lot of plays. I am amazed you managed to play this so often in so short a time.

All very good and interesting points you raise. I am in the process off learning this ftf and your comments have been very helpful.



Thanks, my usual opponent was very taken with the game and didn't want to play anything else - given the footprint of the game and the size of Parisian flats, once a campaign is ongoing you want to finish it as quickly as possible.



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Thierry Michel
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monotonous15 wrote:
Maybe I'm the oddball here but the map is gorgeous and I would certainly frame this to hang on my wall. Truly a beauty to behold.


I added a qualifier ;)
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Alan Sutton
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ThierryM wrote:
Moruya23 wrote:

I think that is a superb review, well informed by a lot of plays. I am amazed you managed to play this so often in so short a time.

All very good and interesting points you raise. I am in the process off learning this ftf and your comments have been very helpful.



Thanks, my usual opponent was very taken with the game and didn't want to play anything else - given the footprint of the game and the size of Parisian flats, once a campaign is ongoing you want to finish it as quickly as possible.


And how long do you find a whole campaign game takes Michel? Once you have the rules memorised I mean, remembering that you say it does not usually go the whole 20 turns.

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Thierry Michel
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Moruya23 wrote:
And how long do you find a whole campaign game takes Michel? Once you have the rules memorised I mean, remembering that you say it does not usually go the whole 20 turns.


I'm counting roughly one hour per turn. The quickest I have seen is 6 turns or so, the longest 14 turns. My opponent resigned once, because we did not have time to finish and he was falling behind, but he could have drawn it longer.

If the Union is lucky and skilled, they can force a quick ending by opening the Mississippi. If they are less lucky and/or competent, they can have a hard time surviving 1863. If they can push on through that year, then it's the South that will have a hard time because at this stage the force differential will be huge.
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Thibault Nguyen
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I am Thierry's gaming partner, I cannot do anything else but to agree with this excellent review.
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Fredrik
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monotonous15 wrote:
ThierryM wrote:

The map:

The map, like the rest of the components, favors function over spectacle. It works, it is very readable, but it's not a work of art to hang on the wall.


Maybe I'm the oddball here but the map is gorgeous and I would certainly frame this to hang on my wall. Truly a beauty to behold.

+1!
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M P
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ThierryM wrote:

The Confederate is vastly outnumbered, and on the defensive during the whole game, but they can not just turtle up, or they are sure to slowly (or not-so-slowly, when I play this side) lose. To delay the Union, the Confederate has to mount threats against Northern territory. With better generals, they can and should push back and take every opportunity to be a nuisance to the bigger Union columns, by threatening their lines of communications or forcing them to take on fortified positions at a vast expense of time and men.
...
I never once won with the South, and my more experienced opponent agreed that the South was more challenging to play.

Actually i am quite suprised about the difficulties CSA has in the East in the very beginning.
Very hard to menace lines with all these railroads, very easy to put a line of Union SP to force CSA in attrition battles.
The numbers of activations is not important if Union have more SP and their lines are secured.
2 or 3 bad rolling in the first turn can compromise Richmond.
In our game, when we tried to be very annoying for Union, with CSA cavalry etc, we lost Manassas battle in the first turn due to bad luck, but then we were hammered and hammered again.
There's not enough SP to defend Richmond.
Union have all to gain to risk attack (DM doesn't influence defense) and CSA have all to lose to risk attack (lose SP and not having the advantage of entrenches).
We had 5/6 Sp per turn but if battles go wrong the difference in numbers increase and it's like a cat playing with a mouse.
I think an aggressive Union who want to risk some can take the whole Viriginia before Lee arrives.
The fact DM doesn't influence defense is a big issue.
CSA can't hope to battles with less SP.

I waiting further observations.
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