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Subject: Is This Game Really That Bad? A Review of 1862 rss

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Michael Lavoie
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1862 is a game that has received more than its share of criticism over the years. It seems that just about everyone, up to and including the game's developer/publisher, wants to heap scorn upon this title. This raises the question: just how bad is this American Civil War game? Does it really deserve all the negative commentary? A closer inspection reveals that, while it was never the state of the art in wargame design, it's not quite as vile as some would have us think.

Published in 1990 by the short-lived company Simulation Design, Inc. (SDI), 1862 simulates four American Civil War battles that occurred in the titular year. The intention was for this game to be the first in a series depicting ACW combat at the brigade level using rules of light to moderate complexity. Unfortunately for the future of the "Battles and Leaders" system, the critical and commercial failure of 1862 meant that the series would be short-lived with only two other games: GMT's 1863 and Chancellorsville: Pinnacle of Victory, April 30 - May 5, 1863 from Clash of Arms.

The designer of record here is Rob Markham, but make no mistake about it. Richard H. Berg developed and published this game, and his fingerprints are all over this package. In fact, one of the problems with 1862 is the obvious friction between designer and developer. The game submitted by Mr. Markham featured a chit-pull mechanic to randomly determine which units get to activate for movement and combat at any given time. Developer Berg found this to be tiresome and jettisoned it in favor of the Turn Continuation system that he was using at the time in his Great Battles of the American Civil War series.

Basically, during a turn a player chooses a commander (usually a division or corps leader) to activate; if successful, all the brigades commanded by that leader can move or fight. The player then selects another leader to attempt to activate. Before any leader can activate, the player rolls two six-sided dice on the Turn Continuation Table to see if he can actually perform the actions; a failed roll passes the turn to his opponent, who can activate one of his own leaders, while a roll of seven results in a possible random event.

1862 map graphics. Image by willburnham.


This system maintains a nice uncertainty in the sequence of play. Neither player is ever sure if he is going to be able to activate the units that he wants to, or if his opponent will be able to launch a pre-emptive strike. The tension that underlies each TCT diceroll is palpable, and is probably the best feature of the game. This also hints at one of the game’s major problems: depending on the battle, there can be a LOT of rolls on the TCT on any given turn. All of that dice-slinging can get tedious. Nevertheless, I’ve always enjoyed Berg’s Turn Continuation games. In the end, the results are well worth the effort.

The rules for movement and combat are fairly straightforward. Stacking, with some exceptions, has one infantry or cavalry unit plus one artillery battery per hex. Unit facing matters; in a typical Berg quirk, facing is toward a vertex rather than a hexside. Zones of Control (exerted through front and flanks but not rear hexsides) cost an extra movement point to enter and stop enemy movement. Combat is voluntary and consists of fire and/or melee. As is common in such a case, fire combat is used to cause casualties while melee is employed to force retreats.

There are rules for command morale; as units in a division/corps take casualties or retreat, the command’s morale drops with some loss of combat effectiveness(certain actions can bring it back again, although not all the way). Reducing enemy units to Broken Morale is an important consideration for victory in the four battles, along with unit losses and some geographic objectives. The overall complexity of the Battles and Leaders system is just a notch above the old Blue & Gray series, but well below that of the GBACW series or even the Gamers’ Civil War, Brigade series. When published, 1862 occupied a niche that needed to be filled.

Sounds great, right? Alas, all is not well as one might expect from this game’s low ratings. There are some issues with the rulebook. In particular, the series of exceptions to the Turn Continuation rolls, intended to prevent a series of hot or cold TCT dicerolls from totally ruining a player’s day, is poorly-written and fairly obscure. Careful reading is needed to work out what is supposed to happen. This is an important part of the game and needed to be crystal clear; alas, it is not. Also, other reviewers have called into question some of the unit strengths and deployments in the battle scenarios. That may or may not be so, but given the modest level of detail aimed at here there’s nothing that I find unacceptable. This is a game first and a simulation second, and I can deal with a little fudging if it makes a decent game.

The real problems with 1862 are in presentation and organization. Graphically, the game was well behind the state of the art even in 1990. The half-inch counters are functional but no more, while the maps are barely that and incredibly bland to boot. Part of the game’s poor reception, I’d be willing to wager, stems from the weak graphics which present a bad first impression. Good gameplay can overcome that, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen here. While the four battles are not without interest, and the Turn Continuation system offers a nice level of tension, the rulebook’s poor organization just about destroys the fun.

1862 counter sheet. Image by bbhanson.

If ever a game cried out for Player Aid Cards such as one commonly finds in games from, say, GMT, 1862 is it. Important charts and tables are widely separated, forcing players to constantly flip back and forth through the rulebook. In fact, the only way to play this is to photocopy those tables and charts to keep them handy because the way the rules are laid out is insane. The fire Combat Results Table is found on the back page of the rulebook, while the melee CRT is located in the middle, between the game rules proper and the battle scenario information. The Turn Continuation Table can be found lurking there as well, along with the Morale tables. The Terrain Effects Chart? It’s on the rulebook’s inside back cover, of course! Where else would it be? All this foolishness makes the game a chore to play.

Finally, I’d like to point out one last annoying issue. Command morale is a very important concept in this game, and the tracks for recording the morale levels for each command are helpfully located on the game maps. Unfortunately, on the Stones River map the boxes on Morale Track are far too small to hold the counters that are supposed to fit in them. Players will need to use paper and pencil to track morale.

With all these flaws, one would think that 1862 does indeed deserve its low ratings. And yet, there are some redeeming features. The Turn Continuation system leads to interesting, tension-filled gameplay. Then there are the four included battles, which are among the least-simulated American Civil War battles in the hobby. Antietam is the most-often gamed battle here (see Wilhammer’s excellent Geeklist here for a good rundown of games on this battle), with Stones River next (my Geeklist here gives the roster). I was able to find three other games on Fort Donelson (3W’s Wargamer magazine game Unconditional Surrender is the only one that I’ve ever seen), while the only game on Seven Pines I could identify is from The Gamers’ Civil War, Brigade series. The main attraction of 1862 is the ability to play each of these battles using a system of moderate complexity. Whether or not that is enough to overcome the game’s weaknesses is an open question.

Many of 1862’s faults were corrected in the GMT-produced sequel, 1863. Also included in the latter game is a rules addendum to retro-fit the new rules to the older title. That makes 1862 a better game, for sure, and the availability of that addendum in the files section here on BGG makes 1862 a bit more appealing. Is it worth seeking out and adding to one’s collection? Given its low ratings, the game can occasionally be found at a reasonable price. While other, far better games have filled the niche that 1862 was meant to fill (Richard Berg’s Glory series for GMT, which ironically uses a version of the chit-pull activation system that Berg found so tiresome in Rob Markham’s original design for 1862, immediately comes to mind), the collection of battles included in this game makes it worth considering despite its myriad flaws. Just be prepared to photocopy the charts and tables first.


edited to add some links to games mentioned
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Sam H
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Thanks for the interesting take on this game.
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Bob Schindler
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You are right on target about Berg screwing the game up. I play tested the orginal system Rob Markham did. It was a lot of fun and quick moving. Whne Berg got a hold of it, the game became crap!! The randon event thing was all the rage and it was shoehorned into the game. It just doesn't work. The chit pull system is what made those games go. Without it the games became dog food. I quit buying anything Berg did after that. I call him the designer who is in love with every rule he thinks of. He had to much of the old SPI frame of mind that games were played once and put on the shelf. Well my shelf got full and all those games went. Don't miss them.soblue
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Aaron Silverman
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I don't know whether it's time to give this game a try or offer it for sale!
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Bill Eldard
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A super review! Thanks.
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Will Green
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Well, it may not be the worst wargame ever, yet it may be the lowest priced wargame, right now, on BGG's Marketplace at $2.00...is it a steal? Or is it still overpriced?
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William Byrne
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The Errata to 1862 (if you can find it) clears up most issues with the "Exceptions" to the activation rules, but generates issues of its own. Still other problems can be resolved by using the improved TCT rules appearing in "1863" and "Rio Grande".

After having recently played two of the scenarios, Ft. Donelson and Seven Pines, I would say the reviewer is right on target. This game can be a lot of fun if you can get past the graphics and devise appropriate solutions to the remaining rules problems. The Fort Donelson scenario, in particular, seems well worth that $2.00 price tag.
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Robert Wesley
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haubitze wrote:
The Errata to 1862 (if you can find it) clears up most issues with the "Exceptions" to the activation rules, but generates issues of its own. Still other problems can be resolved by using the inproved TCT rules appearing in "1863" and "Rio Grande".

After having recently played two of the scenarios, Ft. Donelson and Seven Pines, I would say the reviewer is right on target. This game can be a lot of fun if you can get past the graphics and devise appropriate solutions to the remaining rules problems. The Fort Donelson scenario, in particular, seems well worth that $2.00 price tag.
Had you meant with these article pages? Page 1 and Page 2 whistle
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Richard Berg
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My God . . . amazing what pops up here. Glad someone thinksmore of the ga,e than i do . . .

And I feel bad for Bob Schindler, who seems to feel this is a personal issue. C'est la guerre, Bob . . . but he does seem to be in the minority (thankfully). He is, of course, entitled to feel as he does . . .I keep designing, while he keeps skulking . . .

rhb
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William Byrne
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I did not mean those two article pages, but they look very interesting, and just in time for my upcoming Stones River game versus my buddy, who also bought "1862" on the strength of its relatively unusual scenarios.

The Errata of which I spoke is two sheets long and looks as if it had been mimeographed. Most of it deals with updated TCT rules. If I can get my scanner working, I'll post it.
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Kim Meints
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Robert

The Wargamer issue wasn't errata,that was a 2 page Variant to try and fix the game.

I have the 4 page Addendum with my copy so will scan and upload a file for it.

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Michael Lavoie
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The addendum from 1863, intended to retro-fit the changes in the system for use in 1862, is available on BGG and can be found on the page for 1863. It was uploaded by the intrepid Wilhammer (link here). Also included are some other goodies, including some minor 1863 errata and a very helpful scan of the 1863 player aid card.
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Michael Lavoie
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Well, that's not quite what I said, but I appreciate your input. If you've been avoiding all of RHB's games then you've missed some good stuff over the years. Of course, you've also avoided a few turkeys as well.

rschindl@swbell.net wrote:
You are right on target about Berg screwing the game up. I play tested the orginal system Rob Markham did. It was a lot of fun and quick moving. Whne Berg got a hold of it, the game became crap!! The randon event thing was all the rage and it was shoehorned into the game. It just doesn't work. The chit pull system is what made those games go. Without it the games became dog food. I quit buying anything Berg did after that. I call him the designer who is in love with every rule he thinks of. He had to much of the old SPI frame of mind that games were played once and put on the shelf. Well my shelf got full and all those games went. Don't miss them.soblue
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Robert Wesley
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The 1862 Addendum is also within the photo GALLERY for its entry here too. 1862 Rules Addendum whistle
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Roger Morley
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Is he the "Sandra D" of Designers? wow
 
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Lee Trowbridge
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Re:Another game using this system?
I haven't seen of played 1862 or 1863, but the game system sounds very much like that used in
Rio Grande: The Battle of Valverde, which I have played, and like.
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