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Subject: Learning My First Bigboy Wargame: The U.S. Civil War rss

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Justen Brown
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Pre-Ramble

I got serious about board games around 2011 after my US Navy service. I started with all the usual gateway games - Catan, Smallworld, Ticket to Ride - but very quickly my friend, experienced in designer board games in my absence, introduced me to Twilight Struggle. It was a mind blowing revelation as if a caveman stumbled upon fire. Nothing else mattered, every other design was childish in comparison.

But in the back of my mind there existed a prejudice to hex-and-counter war games. The old me looked down upon them as the thing grumpy old men play when their wives are away, cooped up in their musty basements moving hundreds of cardboard tokens around with tweezers on fingerprint stained plexiglass sheets. Meanwhile I kept falling deeper into the hole, moving from Twilight Struggle to Sekigahara, Triumph & Tragedy to Here I Stand and Maria, Cuba Libre to Napoleon's Triumph and Guns of Gettsyburg, and now The U.S. Civil War.

"This game, you say," I ask an online friend "covers the entire civil war on a strategic scale? I'm very interes-- oh, no. Hexes! Counters!! COMBAT RESULTS TABLE!!!" The mind was strong but the flesh was weak. Time to walk the dark path of no return.

Setting Up

I have to say, I'm sucker for two-board maps and USCW does not disappoint in the visuals. Spread out on a table it's an impressive sight to behold. Several friends commented quite excitedly when they saw my table, pieces laid out for a mock solo game, in between teases that I had fallen to the dark side.



The first hurdle was the rules. While essentially only 20 pages or so, it's still double what I'm used to. Here I Stand was long and denser, although that game really comes down to learning your nation; the actual breadth of options is limited for each individual player. It took a solid week of on and off reading just to get through the thing, plus all the time spent re-reading every referenced section. The section on supply was an absolute killer loaded with exceptions and references to different sections forwards and back.

Eventually I shelved the game after reading the rules and left it untouched for several months. It was only until this week I decided to get it back onto the table and actually play the thing. I think the best way to learn a game is to just start moving pieces around. You can reference whatever you need as you come to it, damn the torpedoes FULL SPEED AHEAD.

Ooh boy, what a good idea that was! Breaking my first misconception, The U.S. Civil War has one of the best rule books I've ever read. Maybe the best. GMT style sectioned headers are easy to reference, but USCW goes above and beyond with its illustrations and examples. Every time I had a burning question it was immediately answered by a picture. Nearly every scenario I faced while staring at the board was covered somewhere in that book with its clear layout and solid colors.

Now then, on to the game.

1861 Scenario

Setting up for the 1861 scenario. 1 arsenal point in Louisiana which I place into New Orleans.

Now, I know I just finished gushing about the rule book but I do wish it went into more detail about how this scenario affects the actual stat tracker. You're told the CSA has 99bp and the Union has 1vp starting out because of Harper's Ferry, but it doesn't account for the special scoring where Union gets 1/2vp for each blockade DRM it controls. CSA should also have an additional 3bp for controlling Springfield, MI and the 1ap they get. But maybe that's just the game's way of making sure you're paying attention.

Now before I continue, let me go back to how prejudice I was about hex-and-counter wargames. I always balked at the idea that these took as long as people said they did. How long can it really take for you to move your cardboard around and make decisions? C'mon people!

That thought slowly rotated in my head as I stared blankly at the game. And this game is clean compared to the monsters people play. There's maybe two dozen counters here. How the hell do people play something with a hundred? Or a thousand?? Spread across 7 maps with individual sideboards for combat???

But hey,remember how good that rulebook is? Well it tells me Union should go after West Virginia for an easy score and it's not wrong. West Virginia is ripe for the taking. The rebs can't mount an early assault on DC, and neither can I make a push for Richmond without leaving the capital exposed.

Cycle 1: Union gets the initiative 5-to-4 making it a 1 point differential.

Union First Action

McClellan activates in the East, takes Wheeling, and heads toward Grafton.

The West is a new challenge. There's not much of a Union presence and invading Kentucky would benefit the CSA quite a bit. The Union decides to send 2sp by rail from Ohio to the border of West Virginia to assist McLellan.


Not long after taking this picture I realized it was smarter to leave 2sp in the West just in case another 1 was rolled.

In the Trans-Mississippi I'm trying to suss out the best strategy here. Lyon moves fast and hits hard to push deep into Arkansas but Fremont is more useful in Cairo at this point. Well, no use letting the rebels sit on Springfield. Lyon advances on Springfield.



Confederate First Action

In the east, the CSA activates the SP in Richmond, to build a fort, then makes their way by rail to join Johnston with their hopes of pushing Patterson out of Harper's Ferry in a future turn.

In the West, the CSA orders troops to the border of Kentucky to prepare for a future assault. A fort is also built in Cairo to secure a foothold in the Mississippi.



In Missouri, Price knows he's the only barrier to keeping the quick Lyon from rampaging through Arkansas. He can't fortify Springfield as Lyon is just in the next county and will smash through their half constructed barriers. If he withdraws to Fayetteville, he forces Lyon to make a decision; retake Springfield and move to Fayetteville or head east to Little Rock. Either way, Price can beat him to either town.

Price activates, takes control of Springfield, and marches to Fayetteville.

Cycle 2: Union wins initiative, 6-to-5. 1 point differential.

Union Second Action

Union has an easy time here. McLellan activates in the east, takes Grafton, and moves to Charleston. In the west, the 2sps cross the border to join McLellan. Lyon calls Price's bluff and takes the direct path, retaking Springfield and heading towards Fayetteville.

Confederate Second Action



In the east Johnston gets another sp for his planned assault on Harper's Ferry. The three errant sp in Tennessee line up at the border to invade Kentucky.



Price wasn't expecting Lyon to follow. He begins constructing a fort in Fayetteville, crossing his fingers they can erect the palisades before Lyon comes storming in.

Cycle 3: CSA wins initiative, 5-to-3. 2 point differential.

Confederate Third Action

Seizing the initiative, Johnston assaults Harper's Ferry: Johnston with 4sp rolls a modified 5 against Patterson's 3sp on a modified 6. The battle is a stalemate. Johnston returns to camp disappointed.

Price erects a hasty fort in Arkansas but he gets cold feet and abandons it, marching to Little Rock where reinforcements will arrive soon. He hopes it'll slow Lyon long enough to trap the Yankee between the mountains. He thinks if he can lure the general south into inhospitable territory that he can cut off supply from Missouri.

Union Third Action

McClellan steadily advances on Charleston. Lyon, undeterred, takes the fort with no casualties, claiming Fayetteville.

Cycle 4: Union initiative, 6-to-3. 3 point differential.

Union Fourth Action

McClellan takes Charleston with no losses. He sits back to count the coal and ginseng.

Suspecting a Kentucky sweep, Fremont takes the rail to Cairo. An sp takes the rail from Philly to Annapolis, and another sp one from Evansville to New Albany.

Confederate Fourth Action

Three sp invade Kentucky to occupy Bowling Green. Polk packs up camp to pitch a tent in Columbus. Johnston assaults Harper's Ferry again; once more it's a battle of attrition as both sides inflict even casualties but the summer heat and wet terrain take their toll on the attackers. Johnston's unit is beat back and demoralized.


Reports of a massacre in Bowling Green are exaggerated.

End Phase

West Virginia and Missouri are firmly held by the Union while the CSA blitzes Kentucky. Union VP 6 to CSA VP 2. Johnston rallies in Strasburg.

I'm calling it here for now. Couple of thoughts: This was much simpler than I expected. Once you get down to it majority of the game is moving your chits around. A few times I had to turn to the rules for supply, intercepting (particularly type 2 navigable rivers), and control for rivers. But overall, despite containing numerous exceptions, rarely did one of them apply. I can see how supply will be an issue as units move deep into opposing territory, and we'll see what choices can be made once fresh units and generals arrive during the reinforcement phase which I'll have to refresh myself on later.

Combat I could take or leave. It seems like it favors the defender which I understand is necessary to promote strategic movement over bloody blowouts. The designer stresses this is a war of attrition and sure enough unless you double your opponent's army a battle will probably result in a stalemate with even losses.

The dice differential is brilliant. Really makes you think about where you want to prioritize your efforts. It also keeps the game unpredictable while still remaining balanced for both players.

Until next time.
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Paul Schorfheide
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Makes me want to pull this one out of shrink to play solo.
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Paul Carlson
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Sounds like what my fellow wargamer and I did at the recent SaltCON in Utah. We set up The USCW for all four days of the 'con and had many an onlooker with many questions as we tried to garner local interest in the 'dark' side of gaming. (And we used that same terminology when talking to people too!)

We didn't get very far into the game itself as we were both learning it and talking to people throughout, but we met a lot of existing and potential wargamers - including a 14 year-old who specifically wanted to learn wargames and was not embarrassed being with two grognards.

We are planning another session to actually learn the game this time as it seems to be an excellent addition to the list of ACW game options.
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Steve Herron
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Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
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Now that you are one you can get those counters clipped.
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Justen Brown
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sherron wrote:
Now that you are one you can get those counters clipped.


I prefer uncut. It feels better in the hand and you can pinch the corners with little resistance.

Down with counter mutilation!
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Dave Langdon
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I don't like to point out mistakes, but there might be a few...or more in the session. Hopefully a more knowledgeable person can point them out.

I'll give some gg to raise morale.
 
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Justen Brown
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Cage wrote:
I don't like to point out mistakes, but there might be a few...or more in the session. Hopefully a more knowledgeable person can point them out.

I'll give some gg to raise morale.


Please point out all mistakes, I can't learn otherwise.
 
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G. H.
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Good to see that we still get new recruits coming to the Dark Side. Thanks for the writeup. It was enjoyable to read!
 
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Ken
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Nice write up! It'd be very interesting to hear what you think as you move forward.

Some possible corrections (or opportunities for me to learn):

jaybeethree wrote:
1861 Scenario

…but it doesn't account for the special scoring where Union gets 1/2vp for each blockade DRM it controls.


Where did you see this in the rules? I don’t recall this at all.

Quote:
Cycle 1:… The West is a new challenge. There's not much of a Union presence and invading Kentucky would benefit the CSA quite a bit. The Union decides to send 2sp by rail from Ohio to the border of West Virginia to assist McLellan.


Minor quibble – but you moved these 2SP one space further than was legal. The Union doesn’t control Parkersburg, so you can’t rail into it. This might have had an impact on future moves, but if you're using rail movement, probably not - you'd just move them to a different place.

Quote:
In the east, the CSA activates the SP in Richmond, to build a fort, then makes their way by rail to join Johnston with their hopes of pushing Patterson out of Harper's Ferry in a future turn.


When you say “fort,” do you mean F1 fort? Or entrenchment? You have to burn a card for the fort, and the entrenchment would vanish if there isn’t any SP there. So if they build and then evacuate, you end up with an empty hex. You also mention Price building a fort in Springfield, but that this would be pointless because it would be under construction – this would only be true for a Fort, not an entrenchment. Price could get the +2 DRM with an entrenchment immediately.

I’m also not sure what the value of retreating Price to Fayeteville is. Standing and fighting at least slows the Union down, rather than handing them control of Missouri. With the combat tables as they are, entrenching and taking the fight seems much better strategy.

From much later:

Quote:
Combat I could take or leave. It seems like it favors the defender…


It really favors the player that can get a significant advantage in dice. Adding in multiple leaders plus the bump in the potential casualties is a big deal. You didn’t mention playing any cards that I could see, and the +2 that you can get attacking can be a very, very big deal.

Be interesting to see how things go for you in future turns, particularly once the naval transport becomes available.
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Justen Brown
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Re: special scoring

S1.2 Scenario Victory Conditions: Union 1/2 VP (retain fractions) for each blockade DRM point currently in Union control.

re: Rail movement: yes, the picture showed me doing an incorrect move. I mentioned pulling them back one hex west which actually worked out better because they remained in the West instead of the East and there was a 1 point differential in the second cycle.

re: fort. Yes, F1 fort which I had a card for. Same in Fayetteville.

My justification for leaving Springfield was that Lyon is so fast he could reach the state capital in 2 activations. If the Union got initiative twice in a row then Price would be too late. If Price responded by chasing Lyon then Lyon could easily double back on Springfield undefended. Truth be told Price should've stayed but damn is Lyon fast!

I've yet to see how reinforcements and leader transfers will play out. I need to brush up on the rules but if I can get that crappy cautious leader to defend D.C. and someone a bit more aggressive out West I'll be a happy man.
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Ken
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jaybeethree wrote:
S1.2 Scenario Victory Conditions: Union 1/2 VP (retain fractions) for each blockade DRM point currently in Union control.


We've been shorting the Union some VP in all my games. LOL!

Regarding the forts, they really aren't for every situation. Don't underestimate the value of Entrenchments - the bonus they give the defender are often what you need to offset a good attacker, even with a card in play. Forts are really for those critical locations (Memphis) where you just can't afford to make it easy for the union at all (New Orleans) and it's critical to hang on to the objective. As much as you'd like to hang on to Missouri or Arkansas, they're really secondary to things. Be better to force the Union to focus somewhere else - KY or the east as your method of slowing them down in the far west.

Lyon is fast, but he vanishes quickly. Like turn 2. So your move makes more sense if you're dealing with Grant or Sherman who won't go away, but less sense to worry about him out-maneuvering you in this case. But you'll get more of a feel for that with more plays.
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Jim Dauphinais
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Note that the 1/2 VP awards only apply to the 1861 Scenario, not Campaign Games starting in 1861.

I love the great number of reports there have been over the past year or so of folks diving into this game as either their first wargame altogether or their first traditional hex and counters wargame. It is a real tribute to the subject, the attractiveness of the components and the relative accessibility of Mark's rules writing style. While the published rules fell short with respect to clarity for some items, I remember them being a very nice read the first time I went through them.
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Ken
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jimdauphinais wrote:
Note that the 1/2 VP awards only apply to the 1861 Scenario, not Campaign Games starting in 1861.


Ahhh, then I'm not playing it wrong. LOL!
 
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Mike E.
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A most excellent post on how to come to terms with a complex game.
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Peter Collins
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jaybeethree wrote:

But in the back of my mind there existed a prejudice to hex-and-counter war games. The old me looked down upon them as the thing grumpy old men play when their wives are away, cooped up in their musty basements moving hundreds of cardboard tokens around with tweezers on fingerprint stained plexiglass sheets.


Guilty. blush
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Thomas Juliano
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A rules slip to mention:

jaybeethree wrote:
Union First Action
McClellan activates in the East, takes Wheeling, and heads toward Grafton

Flagging Grafton requires 1 MP. See Rule 6.2.1. So in his first action, McClellan can move to and flag Wheeling (3+1 MP). He wouldn't move out of Wheeling until a second activation. Or he could move to Wheeling, leave one or two SP there to control it, and move on. A SP left behind would flag it at no action or move cost in the End Phase.
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Justen Brown
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tjuliano wrote:
A rules slip to mention:

jaybeethree wrote:
Union First Action
McClellan activates in the East, takes Wheeling, and heads toward Grafton

Flagging Grafton requires 1 MP. See Rule 6.2.1. So in his first action, McClellan can move to and flag Wheeling (3+1 MP). He wouldn't move out of Wheeling until a second activation. Or he could move to Wheeling, leave one or two SP there to control it, and move on. A SP left behind would flag it at no action or move cost in the End Phase.


I'm trying to remember where McClellan starts but looking at it I probably over-counted his steps, yes.
 
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Dave Langdon
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The update rules has only 3 activation rounds instead of 4 in 61, so Lyon can't get as far as you think, and assuming he does place control markers for mp which slow advances. Little Macs was an illegal move, and again with 3 rounds he's limited.

I don't like pointing out mistakes, I'm not very succinct, I prefer waffling about strategy.

Can offset speed loss by forced march, helpful in the above.
 
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Justen Brown
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I'll have to lookup forced march as it's something I forgot. Also ARGH I hate living rules but it's something I need to get used to if I'm going to dive into these deeper games.
 
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Allen Dickerson
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[quote]But in the back of my mind there existed a prejudice to hex-and-counter war games. The old me looked down upon them as the thing grumpy old men play when their wives are away, cooped up in their musty basements moving hundreds of cardboard tokens around with tweezers on fingerprint stained plexiglass sheets. [/quote]

I take exception to that!!!!! We old grognards look down on Eurogame players as attention-deficit millenials who lack the patience or discernment to grok anything more complex than a first-person-shooter thumb-twitcher or a "quick-n-easy" game that lasts no more than 45 minutes!!!!

Welcome to "the RIGHT side!" I'm hoping your foray will open up a world of appreciation for military history in this, and other periods, and will cure you of silly, tabletop games forever!!!

Oh, and by the way, resist any temptation to become a "counter-clipper". That way lies madness, I tell you. MADNESS. And don't acquire a pair of tweezers, either.
 
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Allen Dickerson
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There you go! Bravo!!! Resist the puffy-shirted, pinky-extended girly-men who clip!!!!
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Dan Collins
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Great post, i enjoyed the read.

This game has sat on my shelf for over a year. I did the same thing...set it up in the game room, read the rules for a week, read the forums on BGG, and then never played, boxed it up and placed it back on the shelf.

I believe this game will continue to sit on my shelf until someone sees it there and says "Oh, US Civil War, great game!......want me to teach you how to play"

So many good games...so little time.
 
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Stephen Harper
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Slyzx1 wrote:
Great post, i enjoyed the read.

This game has sat on my shelf for over a year. I did the same thing...set it up in the game room, read the rules for a week, read the forums on BGG, and then never played, boxed it up and placed it back on the shelf.

I believe this game will continue to sit on my shelf until someone sees it there and says "Oh, US Civil War, great game!......want me to teach you how to play"

So many good games...so little time.



Have you tried VASSAL? If not, you should, as it allows you to enjoy all these wonderful games that tend to sit in our closets way too much. The U.S. Civil War is very playable as a VASSAL PBEM game, and indeed I am playing the Campaign game right now. It is truly great fun.
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Allen Dickerson
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Slyzx1 wrote:
Great post, i enjoyed the read.

This game has sat on my shelf for over a year. I did the same thing...set it up in the game room, read the rules for a week, read the forums on BGG, and then never played, boxed it up and placed it back on the shelf.

I believe this game will continue to sit on my shelf until someone sees it there and says "Oh, US Civil War, great game!......want me to teach you how to play"

So many good games...so little time.


There's another grognard complaint: why does everybody need new games spoonfed to them nowadays? "Teach me to play...." whine, simper, whine. cry Just pick up the rules, READ THEM, and move a few counters around. Especially, with AARs, YouTube vids and whatnot that are readily available today, it shouldn't be much of an issue to pick up a new system. Put your big boy pants on, people!!!
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Paul Schorfheide
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Stiglr wrote:
There's another grognard complaint: why does everybody need new games spoonfed to them nowadays? "Teach me to play...." whine, simper, whine. cry Just pick up the rules, READ THEM, and move a few counters around. Especially, with AARs, YouTube vids and whatnot that are readily available today, it shouldn't be much of an issue to pick up a new system. But your big boy pants on, people!!!


My problem is there are only so many rules I can keep in my head at once. If I have a regular Breakout: Normandy opponent and play ASL from time to time, it's going to be hard to pick up a new system for more than one play.
 
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