Pete Belli
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Florida
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"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
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One of the biggest challenges an overworked and underpaid wargame designer might face is working within the limitations of a previously established publishing format. Many game concepts are developed within certain creative guidelines (200 counters, one 22" x 34" map, 12 page rule booklet, etc.) and the cardboard craftsman builds a masterpiece inside that framework.

It certainly requires some tough creative decisions when simulating historical military campaigns if the designer has dozens or hundreds of full color double-sided counters to work with. The choices are even more difficult when the designer is attempting to recreate an accurate representation of the campaigns of the American Civil War with 25 plain wooden sticks.




Civil War Express is a strategic level game of the American Civil War. It is designed to be completed in less than one hour but players will find many of the crucial elements of the conflict contained in the rules. Civil War Express is a Do-It-Yourself game that uses some components from Settlers of Catan and an ordinary deck of playing cards. The game also includes an 11" x 17" paper sketch map which can be used as a playing surface. Some of the illustrations in this article feature that map.

Since wooden sticks (the roads in Settlers of Catan) represent the army units in CWEx every element of the battle system needed to be built around one severe limitation placed on the design: the fact that a Settlers game contains just 15 blue sticks.

While this discussion only includes elements from CWEx players who enjoy the challeges of combining a devotion to history with practical wargame design might find the subject interesting.




Every schoolboy (and schoolgirl) knows that the Union forces had numerical superiority during the conflict. However, giving the Confederate player the approximate proportion of army units based on numbers alone won’t work. The Confederate player should have enough units to cover the primary strategic approaches to the Confederacy and still have some maneuver units to shift from one threatened point to another. In other words, giving the Union player 15 units and the Confederate player less than half that number would result in a historically flawed pattern of army deployment.

Writing numbers on the sticks which give the Union player stronger units is not an option. Arbitrarily assigning various numerical strengths (for example, decreeing that a Union army is a 3, but a Confederate army is a 2) would wreck the differential battle table which is the heart and soul of the combat system.




I decided to create two battle tables, one for each player. The Confederate army can meet the Union army on relatively even terms until the Federals build up a substantial advantage in numbers... at that point the Yankees have a much better chance of driving the Rebels in retreat. Confederate attacks (even with a modest numerical superiority) are not quite so decisive. This is an attempt to reflect the fact that the Confederate units actually represent smaller numbers of soldiers.

The battle system was also designed to reflect a few of the historical attributes common to many Civil War campaigns:

-- The Confederate forces were (for a variety of reasons) often more effective than the Union forces on a man-for-man basis.

-- Enhanced defensive firepower due to improved weapons, the frequent employment of outmoded tactical doctrine, and the use of entrenchments made direct offensive action costly and often ineffective.

-- While generals on both sides attempted to mimic the decisive sweeps of the epic Napoleonic battle the typical Civil War campaign lacked the crushing all-or-nothing outcome which Napoleon had achieved on several occasions.

-- Armies fought over the same large areas of territory (middle Tennesee, northern Virginia, the central sections of the Mississippi River) for months or even years at a time.

-- The Confederates enjoyed a huge advantage when conducting cavalry operations until the Union mounted forces gradually matched the Rebel horsemen and eventually surpassed the southern cavalry by the end of 1864.




The differential combat system was adapted from the classic game The Great War 1914-1918 created by the superb military historian and wargame designer Al Nofi. By conducting battles within "contested" areas containing units from both armies the bitter and bloody strategic waltz of a Civil War campaign can be recreated.

The battle table includes retreats for the defender but forcing the enemy to withdraw by using hammer blows can squander a great quantity of precious command points. A skillful general will push against the enemy flank and threaten the opponent’s supply line.

In many cases a typical CWEx campaign (actually representing weeks or even months of time with infrequent spurts of military activity) will have an indecisive result or a defeat for the attacker. The attacker always chooses when and where to attack so a competent general will not push his armies into battle against unfavorable odds. A defeat for the attacker is considered to be a "military blunder" and a series of these fiascos can have a negative effect on a player’s victory conditions and the ability to sustain offensive operations.

Cavalry raids can be used to add 1 strength point to a battle. These mounted operations can be conducted when attacking or defending... the December 1862 raid by Van Dorn wrecked Grant’s supply base and forced the advancing Yankee army to withdraw from the approaches to Vicksburg. These cavalry raid markers also represent the screening and reconnaissance missions performed by cavalry formations during a campaign.




Every battle has a chance to be affected by leadership. The die rolls for battlefield leadership occur after both players have made all decisions about event cards (some cards provide an Aggressive General to enhance the chances of a successful attack) or cavalry raids. Each player now rolls one die. A die roll of five or six represents the presence of a leader. This adds 1 to the battle strength of any player that rolls a five or six. Both players may receive the benefit of battlefield leadership in the same engagement.

There are two design elements incorporated in this use of leadership dice: the technique keeps both players involved in a battle (instead of having the defender passively awaiting the result of a campaign) and these leadership die rolls limit analysis paralysis or the effectiveness of factor counting. In CWEx the players will probably not be shifting units frantically looking for that "perfect" column on the battle table.

Once the proper differential column (+1, +2, +3, etc.) has been determined the attacking player rolls a die and checks the result.




A player commanding army units defending an area with extensive fortifications (like Richmond) has additional defensive options... a Confederate general defeated during the defense of Richmond can accept a "battle of attrition" result and lose an army unit to avoid withdrawing from the capital.

Well, there it is.

Not bad for two dozen little scraps of wood.
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Pete Belli
United States
Florida
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I have a couple of extra playtest kits available.

If you're interested, please post your name here and then zap me a private GeekMail.

First come, first served.

Thanks!

----- EDIT -----

All of the extra playtest kits have been claimed.

Thank you for the rapid response!

Please subscribe to the Civil War Express home page here on BGG. Additional information about the game will be provided in the next few days.



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Iain K
United States
Arvada
Colorado
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Pete, this sounds like a refreshing, elegant and well thought out take on the age old question of how do you make a challenging game on the ACW.

I love to play test this.

Cheers.
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Joshua Githens
United States
Piedmont
South Carolina
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Yeah, I'm interested in play testing this for you.

Our group is always looking for a good Wargame, and under an hour to boot. Good to fill the gaps for guys waiting for the next game to start.

Josh
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Jason Henke
United States
Maple Grove
Minnesota
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I'll have a go if you still have some.
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Ben Vögel
United States
Golden Valley
Minnesota
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I've been on this site for 15 years now, and I'm far from sick of games, but I think I prefer a better balance of favorites to new games. I'm also tired of playing 4+ hr multiplayer games, but I'll still happily play really long games 2 player.
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Geekmail sent.

- Ben
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Scott Henshaw
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East Bridgewater
Massachusetts
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Very interested. I love ACW games.
(You could even use Bonaparte at Marengo or Napoleon's Triumph pieces with the symbols turned down).
I also own Catan with extra colored pieces. I needed a few replacement pieces and ended up buying a whole new set for all 4 colors.
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Skip Franklin
United States
Oklahoma City
OK
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I've subscribed to the game. This might be a hook to get Euro players into wargames.
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Steve Gorman
United States
Lee's Summit
Missouri
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If I'm not too late, I would like to help playtest this.

Steve G.
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