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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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I hope my over the top review title has caught your eye, because it seems that Lincoln’s War has yet to catch enough imaginations. This I humbly hope I can remedy in some small part, because I think this game will indeed surpass its venerable brethren.

In an earlier review I rated The Civil War, For the People, and The War for the Union on how each handled aspect of the American Civil War on the strategic scale. You can find the review here:
Dare to Compare: Three Strategic Games on the American Civil War.

Since then I’ve played The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865 and A House Divided and both disappointed me. Will there ever be a perfect game on this conflict? Currently the duel is between The Civil War and For the People over who should be king. Still, I am reminded of Richard Berg’s comments in relation to The War for the Union:

"The American Civil War is an extremely difficult topic on which to design a "game". A simulation? Easy; a game? a major challenge. There are, at least, two major reasons for this. One, there are an awful lot of people who know an awful lot about the ACW, and an awful lot of those often awful people are often quite "secure", shall we say, in their knowledge. And may the Ghost of Braxton Bragg reside in your briefs if you don't get it exactly the way they securely envision it to have happened.

Secondly - and more importantly - the ACW was an inexorable war. Oh yes, there are places where it could have gone differently, and there are opportunities for "changing" history. But, as an operational exercise, these opportunities are usually "evened out" by the fact that the Union Player is aware where - and why - they will occur. And he is rarely as ineffective as the Union leadership was for the first two years.

And thirdly (we said "at least", didn't we), the ACW is a war of maneuver - not combat. Yes, there were several, huge set-piece battles of major historical import, but, with certain exceptions and with the clear vision of hindsight, these big battles did not have the lasting impact that being maneuvered out of position usually did. Just ask Albert Sidney Johnston, of whom, more below."

John Poniske is a relatively new designer, and while I did not care for King Philip's War, I found Hearts and Minds: Vietnam 1965-1975 to be a stellar game. Lincoln’s War will surpass even this achievement. I'd even venture to say it may overcome Berg’s astute observation.

Leaders
Lincoln’s War has a streamlined system to promote generals from 1 star all the way to General in Chief. However, to prevent the plague of "Grant takes command in ‘62" promotions beyond 2 stars are expensive in terms of political currency (PC), which is the fuel is to this game what operations points are to most other CDGs. The rules for leaders are clean in terms of command. Higher ranked leaders out rank their less connected brethren, and there is none of the fussy, if interesting rules that you’ll find in The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865. I think in this regard Lincoln’s War has solved the problem of arcane leader rules through simple mechanics. The most involved aspect is the peculiar characteristics, an optional rule that I enjoy using. These represent strengths and weaknesses in a commander. It is a bit involved but colorful.

Ground Combat
The game really shines here. For one, you can always retreat, but it will cost you political currency. Also, some generals are indecisive and or erratic. This is a mechanic used in simpler form in The Civil War. However, I wish it was expanded to all the generals. Lee had his Gettysburg and Grant had his Cold Harbor after all. I would also like this because combat does not rely upon dice, but rather upon the accumulated combat skill of the commander, the use of enthusiastic support points (ESP), and other modifiers. These battles do not cause casualties, but instead generate immobilization markers (IT) which impair an army’s operations. All around it is an interesting system and rather effective.

Naval Operations
Many games fall prey to overly complicated naval rules, but Lincoln’s War successfully navigates between the two extremes. On the one hand amphibious landings are easily handled and Confederate rivers warships for the are represented. However, the game does include commerce raiders, an idea I am sort of opposed to. While interesting in their own right, I think at this scale the effect they can have upon the game is an overstatement.

Logistics
This is handled perfectly. You trace supply through the ocean if you are Union. Both sides must trace three hexes back to a rail line or river that connects to a supply city, with higher ranked generals requiring more supply. If you cannot you generate an IT and must draw a card to decide your forage level. Cavalry is better at gaining forage, which is a wonderful addition. They also have have zones of control for the purposes of interception and cutting supply.

Politics
I do not think any game, save possibly For the People, has handled this aspect so well. In part it is the nature of the design, for you are actually playing as either Lincoln or Davis. Your hand of cards represents not events but personalities in the war. Most of them are a boon and provide relevant events and high PC values. However, some cards represent personalities who had a negative effect on the war effort, such as Usher and Joseph Brown. This gives you the feeling of being Lincoln or Davis, trying to shuffle through the advice and assistance of the various personalities. Or in the case of Clement Vallandigham, the heartburn! You can win through causing the opponent to have only 0 PC which is a fine addition. As usual though, play stops in the summer of 1864, with the election of McClellan deciding it all. This thesis doesn't entirely sit right with me because Little Mac was devoted to the war effort. He just opposed the means with which Lincoln was prosecuting it. I suppose it is the only way to keep the game balanced and it is worth noting that I'm sure McClellan's peace would have been a disaster. I guess I’d prefer a game that explores, or at least allows me to explore a McClellan presidency in all its buffoonery.

Accessibility
It is not that Lincoln’s War is a difficult game. It is somewhat like the first time I played Bonaparte at Marengo. There are so many unique aspects that one must read the rules with care and attention. Once you do, the game flows rather well. It can just be a tough going at first. Much of this though is also because the rules are not finished. I'm certain that once they are polished and finalized the rules will be accessible.

Components
While the game is not out yet, the graphics so far uploaded are impressive, being colorful and evocative of the period. Mark Mahaffey's map is quite good, and I've heard the final copy will be lightened and more detailed, including the reworked railroad lines. Even then, while MMP has disappointed me in this department, they also have some impressive games as well. I am not a fan of GCACW, but if I were wealthy I’d buy Battle Above the Clouds just for the map.

Originality
A question often asked by the wary is “what is new about Lincoln’s War? Why not stick with A House Divided or The Civil War.” What is new here is the take on the war. You basically play as either Lincoln or Davis, making the game lees about micromanaging armies and more about weathering political storms and selecting commanders with the right stuff. There is even talk of a four player variant where one player is the president and the other is the commander of the armies. As or combat, I am not opposed to dice or CRTs, but the system here is soething new for Civil War games. In short, this is not going to be For the People: John Poniske Edition.

Victory Conditions
These are fairly ordinary anmd rightfully so,. You get points for capturing cities, destroying rail-lines, forcing an army out of supply, controlling the Mississippi, taking Missouri and Kentucky, and other things. One thing of note is that you gain points for killing Lincoln. Now that is something you do not see everyday.

Conclusions
If I were asked to rank the Civil War games I have played on this scale it would look something like this: The Civil War, The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865, For the People, The War for the Union, and A House Divided. Yet I only own The Civil War, for in spite of its lack of politics and broken leader rules, it is still fresh and exciting. Lincoln’s War promises to surpass even Eric Lee Smith's classic. In a playable format, Lincoln’s War uses unique mechanics to create a gaming situation that departs from its venerable bretheren. It is almost as if Poniske took all the aspects I liked from the previously mentioned games and baked one hell of a wargaming cake. And I don't even like cake.
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Pete Belli
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Interesting preview.

Quote:
it seems that Lincoln’s War has yet to catch enough imaginations.


When a wargame designer sits down to create a new strategic level American Civil War prototype the primary question is: "What will my game add to the narrative beyond the elements included in previous designs?"

With so much excellent work already in the marketplace a new ACW game must present a fresh idea... and I have some experience in these matters. Publishing a pretty map and great looking cards just won't move the ball down the field toward the goal line.

John is a talented designer and a capable wargame historian. He has worked hard to spread the LW message on BGG. What is the "hook" used in LW to snag Civil War Geeks who have already played several similar games and share the characteristics described by Richard Berg?

Quote:
political currency (PC), which is the fuel is to this game what operations points are to most other CDGs.


From what I've read the political rules in LW are among the best ever used in a Civil War game... practically a game in itself, actually.

BOOM!!!

There you have it. When the game first started getting attention here on BGG I thought it was going to be a political game with a few military elements tossed into the mix. Now that would have been a fresh idea that might catch the imaginations of jaded, but devoted, ACW strategy game players.

While LW certainly looks interesting and needs to be played, I fear that the linguistic switch from OPs to PCs plus a few new wrinkles on the "standard" ACW wargame format has not generated the kind of enthusiasm John's effort deserves.
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Excellent writeup. Well done.
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Sean McCormick
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I am certainly interested, though I haven't gotten to the point of putting down for a pre-order. Maybe next month...
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    I'm on the list for this one. I did an interview with Poniske for F:At last spring where I had to take a pretty detailed look into how the game plays. There's some really interesting concepts here. I like how he's abstracted multiple impacts on troop effectivity into a single factor. That's allowing him to lift the game into a broader subject matter without losing the action on the map.

             S.


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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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pete belli wrote:
Interesting preview.

Quote:
it seems that Lincoln’s War has yet to catch enough imaginations.


When a wargame designer sits down to create a new strategic level American Civil War prototype the primary question is: "What will my game add to the narrative beyond the elements included in previous designs?"

With so much excellent work already in the marketplace a new ACW game must present a fresh idea... and I have some experience in these matters. Publishing a pretty map and great looking cards just won't move the ball down the field toward the goal line.

John is a talented designer and a capable wargame historian. He has worked hard to spread the LW message on BGG. What is the "hook" used in LW to snag Civil War Geeks who have already played several similar games and share the characteristics described by Richard Berg?

Quote:
political currency (PC), which is the fuel is to this game what operations points are to most other CDGs.


From what I've read the political rules in LW are among the best ever used in a Civil War game... practically a game in itself, actually.

BOOM!!!

There you have it. When the game first started getting attention here on BGG I thought it was going to be a political game with a few military elements tossed into the mix. Now that would have been a fresh idea that might catch the imaginations of jaded, but devoted, ACW strategy game players.

While LW certainly looks interesting and needs to be played, I fear that the linguistic switch from OPs to PCs plus a few new wrinkles on the "standard" ACW wargame format has not generated the kind of enthusiasm John's effort deserves.


I do see where you are coming from, and at first I mostly ignored this game when announced. After all, I had yet to play For the People, The War for the Union, The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865, and A House Divided. It seemed to be "nothing new under the sun." Having played through about four sessions I can say that particular wisdom from the Book of Ecclesiastes does not apply here.

The part that frustrates me is that there are no end to the number of games on World War II or even the Napoleonic Wars. How many Barbarossa games do we need? Hell, three relatively simple games on tactical Napoleonic combat came out around 2010 and each was successful. Lincoln's War is announced and a lot of people shrugged. Now some of that is the fact that there are other options which are popular and cheap. Some of it is the higher than usual pre-order price, and the fact that MMP is now understandably seen as an ASL factory with other designs randomly attached. None of these factors are decisive but taken together they are powerful in collusion.

I decided to pre-order Lincoln's War after being impressed with Hearts and Minds: Vietnam 1965-1975. I got the chance to play it on VASSAL a few times. I was instantly hooked. Is it fabulously unique? Not in the same way as Bonaparte at Marengo. However, it is a game that intergrates politics more effectively than the rest. Could it go further? Sure, but then it would lose the medium complexity that for me is much of the appeal. I respect For the People, but it is far too involved for what it is. The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865 has issues I addressed in a review. Lincoln's War does not fall for the same traps as the previous games, and I say that knowing that each has its partisans. Also, Lincoln's War rides between the two extremes in Civil War games. It is simpler than The Civil War, For the People, and The War for the Union. It has more going on though than The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865 and A House Divided. It is hitting a sweet spot that I have been looking for since I started this hobby in 2005. I have only been truly pleased with The Civil War and Civil War Express.

Also Pete, just to give the game its due, I didn't mention Civil War Express because it is not ranked, but I do consider it my second favorite Civil War game at the strategic scale. I cannot yet rank Lincoln's War because it is not out, but I'm sure it will be number one. That's why I wrote this review. If it generates maybe 10 more pre-orders then that is mission accomplished, and the game is that much closer to coming out. I long for that day as much as any other in our hobby.
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Wendell
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I really want this to be published... Great review.
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Hi Sean,

You should give War Between the States a try. I have only played the original SPI edition but found it to be an excellent game and an excellent simulation.

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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da pyrate wrote:
Hi Sean,

You should give War Between the States a try. I have only played the original SPI edition but found it to be an excellent game and an excellent simulation.



I admit the size and complexity seems daunting to me.

I would like to try out Civil War and American Civil War 1861-1865 someday, if no other reason than the subject matter. Ever played those?
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gittes wrote:
The part that frustrates me is that there are no end to the number of games on World War II or even the Napoleonic Wars. How many Barbarossa games do we need? Hell, three relatively simple games on tactical Napoleonic combat came out around 2010 and each was successful. Lincoln's War is announced and a lot of people shrugged. Now some of that is the fact that there are other options which are popular and cheap. Some of it is the higher than usual pre-order price, and the fact that MMP is now understandably seen as an ASL factory with other designs randomly attached. None of these factors are decisive but taken together they are powerful in collusion.
First, and most important, thanks for the great preview.

John asked me to take a look at the game too, and while I haven't explored it as much as you, I think it's a great design for all the reasons you cite (and I too loved Hearts & Minds).

It is rather unfortunate this title isn't getting more attention because it looks to me like a brilliant game, but I think the elephant in the room here is the relative popularity of the ACW as a topic/theme in wargames versus WWII, Napoleon, and probably several other categories.

I myself have little interest in gaming the ACW, and that has nothing to do with the quality of the games and everything to do with personal preference about topic. This game and Simmons' Guns of Gettysburg are two I'm keeping an eye on because the games are so intriguing that they're pulling me over the topical/thematic hump.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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gittes wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
Hi Sean,

You should give War Between the States a try. I have only played the original SPI edition but found it to be an excellent game and an excellent simulation.



I admit the size and complexity seems daunting to me.

I would like to try out Civil War and American Civil War 1861-1865 someday, if no other reason than the subject matter. Ever played those?


I have played neither but would like to try the latter.

Regarding WBTW, doun't be daunted. Despite the three maps there are not a lot of counters in play at any one time and the activation rules for leaders mean that often you are very limited in what you can do. It plays particularly well as a four-player game.

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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da pyrate wrote:
gittes wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
Hi Sean,

You should give War Between the States a try. I have only played the original SPI edition but found it to be an excellent game and an excellent simulation.



I admit the size and complexity seems daunting to me.

I would like to try out Civil War and American Civil War 1861-1865 someday, if no other reason than the subject matter. Ever played those?


I have played neither but would like to try the latter.

Regarding WBTW, doun't be daunted. Despite the three maps there are not a lot of counters in play at any one time and the activation rules for leaders mean that often you are very limited in what you can do. It plays particularly well as a four-player game.



I'll take your word on that David. We usually see eye to eye on wargames. I put it on my "want to play" list.
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Nice take on the game, Sean. I truly look forward to playing you in person. Allow me to add a couple of comments.

1) Cavalry not Infantry has a zone of control. This allows cavalry to raid, cut supply lines and trigger interception.

2)For me, the most exciting aspect of LINCOLN'S WAR is the narrative. Since the game centers on personalities and politics as much as on battle, every game generates wonderful alternative history. I love the player interchange that takes place and I always take away a story to tell.
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I'm looking forward to this game because the American Civil War was more than just a tactical contest. It was won in Washington and Richmond as much as it was on the fields of Gettysburg, Antietam and Shiloh.

The only thing that's put me off the game in my mind has been the map. There doesn't seem to be much room for maneuver in the east with just one hex separating Washington and Richmond. Looks very much like the map you would find in A House Divided.
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gittes wrote:
Lincoln's War rides between the two extremes in Civil War games. It is simpler than The Civil War, For the People, and The War for the Union. It has more going on though than The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865 and A House Divided. It is hitting a sweet spot that I have been looking for since I started this hobby in 2005.


As a principal of MMP, I am obviously not impartial on this subject, but the above quote nails the reason that I have been a believer in this game for a *long* time, probably longer than you have been in this hobby.

All of us involved have been very frustrated that this great game has not climbed the preorder hill quicker than it has, especially in light of the great job that John has done of trying to promote it. If we hadn't already sunk so much time and effort into it, we probably would have cut it from our preorder list by now.

No doubt, MMP's reputation as an "ASL factory" has something to do with this (our *many* other *very* successful games aside), as does our minuscule presence here on BGG, our inability to spend much time or effort shilling, my strange sense of humor, etc.

I truly hope reviews like this can help get LW over the hump. Thanks for trying.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Poniske wrote:
Nice take on the game, Sean. I truly look forward to playing you in person. Allow me to add a couple of comments.

1) Cavalry not Infantry has a zone of control. This allows cavalry to raid, cut supply lines and trigger interception.

2)For me, the most exciting aspect of LINCOLN'S WAR is the narrative. Since the game centers on personalities and politics as much as on battle, every game generates wonderful alternative history. I love the player interchange that takes place and I always take away a story to tell.


Thanks John, I fixed that in the review. Also thanks for mentioning the narrative aspect. I find each session certainly had that epic story feeling that I also get when playing Age of Napoleon and Victory in the Pacific.
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perrycocke wrote:
As a principal of MMP, I am obviously not impartial on this subject, but the above quote nails the reason that I have been a believer in this game for a *long* time, probably longer than you have been in this hobby.


I think most people on BGG have been in the hobby far longer than me. I'm not even 30 yet. Well, almost 30.

Quote:
No doubt, MMP's reputation as an "ASL factory" has something to do with this (our *many* other *very* successful games aside), as does our minuscule presence here on BGG, our inability to spend much time or effort shilling, my strange sense of humor, etc.


It does pain me to say that, as I own and enjoy several MMP titles. What I see around here lately is some exasperation with MMP because at one time, maybe in 2007, it seemed the company was popular if not more so than GMT. At any rate, I hope this comes together and the fact that MMP has stuck by Lincoln's War is encouraging.
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perrycocke wrote:

I truly hope reviews like this can help get LW over the hump. Thanks for trying.


    Mr Cooke could you speak to why this title's preorder number is significantly higher than other games currently on your list?

             S.


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Sagrilarus wrote:


    Mr Cooke could you speak to why this title's preorder number is significantly higher than other games currently on your list?

             S.




I assume you are talking to me.

The P# is higher in order to keep the price down.
A lower P# would mean that we would have to charge a higher price in order to recoup our costs at a P#-level of sales.
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perrycocke wrote:
Sagrilarus wrote:


    Mr Cooke could you speak to why this title's preorder number is significantly higher than other games currently on your list?

             S.




I assume you are talking to me.

The P# is higher in order to keep the price down.
A lower P# would mean that we would have to charge a higher price in order to recoup our costs at a P#-level of sales.


    Sorry about that -- I didn't have my glasses on when I read your response. Age is not kind.

    This one seems to be pricey and higher on the P# so I'm leaping to the conclusion that it's a much bigger package than other games.

    Mr. Starkweather has begun talking things up here on BGG and in my opinion it is a far better venue for this game than CSW. I think you're going to find a lot of people that like Twilight Struggle and its cousins will be in your target market.

             S.


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Sagrilarus wrote:


    This one seems to be pricey and higher on the P# so I'm leaping to the conclusion that it's a much bigger package than other games.




Too many cards.

Among other things.
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I am really looking forward to seeing this game published. Hearts and Minds is one of my favorite CDG's. Thanks Sean for the review and comments and thanks John for designing this game.
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gittes wrote:
I would also like this because combat does not rely upon dice, but rather upon the accumulated combat skill of the commander, the use of enthusiastic support points (ESP), and other modifiers. These battles do not cause casualties, but instead generate immobilization markers (IT) which impair an army’s operations. All around it is an interesting system and rather effective.


Does this turn combat into purely (or even mostly) determistic combat or is there randomness involved? Combat system can easily be a deal-breaker for me (see recent Mage Knight review). For now I'm sticking to my Price of Freedom for my ACW-fix.
 
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Sean McCormick
United States
Philadelphia
Pennsylvania
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I went and did my part by placing a pre-order.
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David Siskin
United States
Playa Del Rey
California
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I would love to see this game in print because it sounds great. However, I gave up on MMP's pre-order system a while back because I simply NEED to know at least six weeks in advance when a game might actually get published. I just don't have enough cash flow to have $60 just disappear out of my checking account without warning.
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