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Subject: Complexity rss

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Jules Redmand
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I'm familiar with the SCS by MM and have no problem understanding that system, just wanted to know what kind of step-up the GCACW system is in complexity?
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Stephen Rochelle
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Not sure if you've seen it, but the basic rules shared by all games in the system are available at the Stonewall Jackson's Way II entry:
GCACW Standard Basic Game Rules
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Chris Montgomery
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The GCACW system is not complex in its fundamental rules; the complexity comes in because of the variety of everything: the variety of units and terrain, and entrenchments. And depending on the year of the war you are in, those rules can change. There is also a lot of variety in modifiers for everything.

But it's an old system -- so think about a hex and counter basic rules system, overlaid with lots more modifiers than you are used to, and terrain rules that can be difficult to grasp in the early-going.

Just to illustrate, the game maps have creeks and rivers. Rivers can be crossed by fords, bridges, dams, or at ferries. You can normally cross a creek at no additional penalty. In combat, though, during rain turns, creeks can act as rivers, conferring different bonuses than when it's not a rain turn. Rain can also affect how you can cross rivers and creeks.

As another example -- any combat comes down to the simple formula of a single defending hex and one or more attacking hexes, compute modifiers, roll two dice and consult a CRT. It's simple enough. The complexity comes in first with a myriad number of automatic modifiers, such as whether Lee or Longstreet is in the attacking force, whether the defender is flanked (which is a complicated math problem for new players, usually), and some of the modifiers require separate charts to compute. But let's say you want to coordinate 3 divisions to attack from different hexes . . . that requires you to make a couple of rolls to see if your commander can successfully do that -- and depending on how things go, maybe only one of your divisions ends up attacking.

So the idea of the system is simple: reduce everything to + and - modifiers so that you only need to make a single die roll for any one thing you want to do. But the game quickly becomes confusing for you players because everything you want to do comes with a not-so-friendly and not-so-quick procedure you have to work through.

What this means in gameplay is that nearly *every* map feature has an effect on your decision-making. It is a game primarily of maneuver, and then at some point you have to just get stuck in. Choosing that moment (there can be several in a game) is the real art of the system.

The game is not helped with its rules writing. They are written in the 1908s and 1990s style of addressing every single possible outcome and rule all at once for a given topic. This means that there are almost no questions that aren't answered by the rules, but finding it and sussing out the meaning can be a problem for new players who don't have a teacher.

I usually tell people that if you want an *awesome* ACW operational level gaming experience, this is your game. I do have some issues with the design, but as a *game*, it is unquestionably one of the best out there -- but you have to remain committed. The more you put in, the more you will get out.

As a frustration-o-meter, plan on reading the rules once, with heavy, heavy rules-look-ups during play. This will become less and less as you play more. Give it probably 5 games and the average wargamer will be starting to pull it all together.

Online games with an experienced player are easy to come by (Vassal and Dropbox, usually). And the tournament scene is alive and well, even after 20+ years. New modules are coming out in the near future, too -- stuff that hasn't been done in the system before, like the siege of Atlanta. The old modules are being rebalanced and new scenarios are added.

If you are really interested, Stonewall Jackson's Way II is the best bang for you buck. It includes the 1861 scenarios in the east, along with a campaign immediately before and after First Bull Run. It includes another module with the Valley Campaign of 1862. All told, there are more than 15 or so basic scenarios (going off memory), and several interested Advanced Scenarios.

Note that, finally, the rules are made more complicated because each module in the system has additional rules changes just for that module, and usually, each scenario can have some special rules that change the basic rules in some way. The Advanced Game typically comes with *lots* more special rules, but allows you capture the flavor of a long campaign that has the feel of its historical counter-part. While much more time consuming to play, these Advanced Scenarios are used by players as the "best and exclusive" way to play the game.
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Jules Redmand
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Thanks Stephen for that link and Chris that was a great detailed overview that you wrote there for the system as well, much obliged.

 
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Patrick Pence
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Blah blah blah... lawyers.
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Stephen Rochelle
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So I don't know SCS, but now that I've got some time and a keyboard, here are my thoughts on where GCACW is complex.

This sticks to the basic game / short scenarios, as Chris handled everything I might say regarding the extra overhead of the advanced game.

Unit status is multi-layered. A given counter (usually a division) is printed with its commander's Tactical value (a straight-up combat modifier) and its organic Artillery value (a terrain-modified differential combat modifier). Those two values remain constant regardless of combat activity.

That counter is further printed front and back; the front side is Normal and the reverse is Exhausted. Exhausted units feel the effects of fatigue more quickly than Normal units but are not directly combat-impaired.

That counter is also associated with a Manpower Value counter, a representation of the combat strength in soldiers -- generally equivalent to the combat factor in most hex&counter games. MV is what's used for odds ratio (another combat modifier rather than picking the column of a CRT). The MV counter is also printed front/back: The front side is Organized, where 1 point of MV = 1 point of Combat Value; the back side is Disorganized, where 1 point of MV = about 2/3 point of Combat Value. Combat Value determines the column of the CRT used, independently for each force. Combat results and marching while fatigued can both cause a unit to become Disorganized.

Those counters are further associated with a Fatigue Level, ranging from 0 to 4. 0 (or no fatigue) has no counter, but 1-4 are marked via another counter. Fatigue determines whether a unit can activate (it can't once maxed at 4) and high fatigue impairs a unit's Organization and/or Exhaustion at the end of each day/turn.

So, that's several linked moving parts, and the Recovery Phase at the end of the day provides the linkages as follows:
* Units at Fatigue 0 (generally, did not act today) can do special actions like entrench or build bridges.
* Units at Fatigue 0 or 1 can revert from Disorganized to Organized (Manpower counter), from Exhausted to Normal (unit counter), and reduce the level of Demoralization (an effect counter from particularly negative combat results, but not directly tied to the fatigue system).
* Units at Fatigue 3 or 4 become Exhausted (unit counter), making them more susceptible to overwork and Disorganization the following day.
* Units reduce their Fatigue by 3 levels (so normally to 0, but Fatigue 4 units reduce only to 1 -- those units must then do nothing the following day in order to qualify for the status improvements above).

That's a lot of stuff, and it's the piece that took the longest for me to get my head around. The other things that I think are difficult are:

* Cavalry (and to a lesser extent, because it's less common, artillery) units behave differently. Important to remember when you suddenly interact with one!

* The procedure to determine flanking bonuses is complex. The hard part, IMO, is the bit where units have to be of sufficient threat to the defender to count their ZOCs as a flanking threat. Similar rules apply to retreats and whether a big division can step right over a hostile regiment even though retreating towards enemy units is generally bad.

* The procedure to assault (a corps-level leader like Longstreet activates multiple subordinates for a single battle in a single hex) and grand assault (an army-level leader like Lee activates multiple subordinates for a single battle across multiple hexes) is, IMO, confusingly written with respect to figuring out if you want a high roll or a low roll, or if you subtract the roll from the leader's rating or vice versa. I'm never good at remembering; I have to return to the first principle that higher ratings are better (this is a true statement for this system, not just a "hope it's right") and reverse-engineer from that which way the subtraction should go.
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Gordon G
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I'm familiar with both. SCS is easier than GCACW.
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Bob James
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Standard Combat System is a great system, a solid and easy one.
GCACW scenario battle scenarios is very easy, as simple and solid as SCS.
The Campaign advance game is more difficult, but solid campaign but worth it.
Whole game series outstanding, including Lee VS Grant the prequel to the Series.
Buy them both, all the games.
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