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PC Review - 'American Civil War: 1861-1865 - The Blue and The Gray'

by Tim McCullough on June 27, 2008 @ 4:23 a.m. PDT

CDV's American Civil War, from the creators of Birth of America, is a historically accurate, realistic and fun turn-based grand operational strategy game of the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: CDV
Developer: AGEod
Release Date: January 31, 2008

AGEod's American Civil War: The Blue and the Gray represents an ambitious effort to encapsulate the events of the American Civil War from 1861-1864. AACW utilizes a WEGO ("We-Go") turn-based resolution system, which means that turns for all players are executed simultaneously after a planning and order phase. With over 300 historic leaders and hundreds of Civil War events, AACW is a serious strategy simulation with details such as climate, supply, attrition, loyalty and morale all factoring into the balance of the game.

Playing as either the leader of the United States or the Confederate States (CSA), you are tasked with managing your armies and fleets in an efficient manner while striving to capture and hold key objectives. Although the game promotes reduced micromanagement, there is still a considerable amount that's required. Even with its well-managed complexity, AACW has a fairly steep learning curve, but luckily, two in-game tutorials can help you get acclimated to the interface and basic gameplay. The game is packaged with a 90-page manual that you'll want to keep handy for reference.

Without question, a substantial amount of work went into the appearance and design of the interface in AACW. As is typical for turn-based strategy titles, you won't find a significant amount of animation or special effects during gameplay. What you'll find is a visually pleasing interface with colorful period designs that include reasonably accurate representations of notable Civil War leaders and the numerous military assets under their command. During turn executions, unit icons glide gracefully across map regions to follow established transport corridors or player-designated waypoint routes. Sound effects are minimal, but AACW features a high-quality soundtrack of classic period music, which greatly enhances the game's overall enjoyment.

Winning campaigns or scenarios requires collecting Victory Points (VP), meeting National Morale (NM) objectives, or a combination of both. VPs are awarded for taking and holding strategic locations, while NMs are usually obtained by winning engagements. All activity occurs on a detailed and accurate zooming map, which provides the best possible environment for managing multiple focal points from turn to turn. The map can be visually filtered six different ways to provide improved visualization of: loyalty, military control, objectives, supply, states and departments (collection of states). Certain "blockade boxes" located around the outer edges of the map deal with influences outside of the mainland. The results of control and conflict in each of these boxes can enhance or inhibit supply and transport capabilities for mainland ports and fortifications. Although it is not necessary to micromanage the movement of supplies across the country, players are still required to establish a network of depots to support the activities and advancements of their units, or they will suffer substantial penalties.

Some non-combat elements, such as engineers and doctors, act as modifiers to the units to which they've been assigned. For example, engineers can have a positive effect on movement, while doctors can improve the health of units. Some of the included scenarios in AACW last for fewer than 10 turns. This may seem a bit on the short side, but once you realize the amount of planning, resource management and positioning that is normally required before ending each turn, you will soon understand that "fewer turns" does not necessarily mean that you'll be experiencing a simpler campaign.

This especially holds true when you consider the number of concurrent conflict locations that can exist in any given campaign. The critical task of properly selecting and stacking the correct elements with the best leadership can be a mind-numbing experience. Each of the available leaders has varying attributes, and you can spend a considerable amount of time simply researching and analyzing information. I found that the most effective turn strategy required careful evaluation of the intended task, along with a reasonable understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership. Luckily, the title provides bonus and penalty identifiers to assist in evaluating your adjustments; it would be nearly impossible to make decisions and adjustments to your armies otherwise.

AACW also requires players to manage recruitment and reinforcement details in campaigns, which is helpful but can again be overwhelming for beginning players. Here, I found that recruiting and replacing matching losses worked best until you achieve a better understanding of the recruitment and reinforcement system.

One of AACW's most powerful features is the ability to back up through each of your turns to try a different strategy or to recover from a blunder, such as a forgotten front or move order. I wish that this feature could be used from the main interface, although I understand the temptation might be too great to use it overly much during gameplay. Your game is automatically saved after each turn, but you also have the option to manually save your game at anytime.

Players have the ability to significantly enhance enemy AI by making adjustments through the Options menu. You can adjust other game factors, such as processing time and aspects of the fog of war — modifications that can dramatically affect the quality of the opponent's AI. Because the movement speeds over both land and water have such a significant impact on the overall interaction of forces, AACW factors in 16 different types of terrain when calculating unit movement. Units can gain movement bonuses by utilizing both rail and waterways, provided their units have a reasonable presence in the region and the transports have not be sabotaged. Movement, supply and combat can also be greatly impacted by four different weather modifiers. When rail and water transports are not being utilized for the movement of units, the game will automatically use them to assist with supply distribution.

Structures in AACW serve multiple roles, and controlling cities is vital to success of every scenario. Supply depots, income, and reinforcements are all generated through the control of cities. Ports also provide repairs and protection for naval vessels, and any additional vessels created must be produced at a controlled port. Forts and stockades provide significant bonuses to units and reduce negative modifiers related to weather and supply. Foreign powers such as Great Britain and France can come to the aid of the Confederate States of America, but based on experience, this situation is difficult to achieve.

Loyalty modifiers can provide multiple benefits to units, such as improved supply, resources, and income. Alternately, when loyalty levels drop to around 10 percent, cities without garrisons may revolt. Although playing against the AI is challenging, playing against another armchair general is much more entertaining. AACW does not contain support for real-time multiplayer games, but there is an option to play against other human players through the use of a PBEM (play by e-mail) procedure; essentially, with each turn, you are swapping a saved game file with your opponent.

AGEod's American Civil War: The Blue and the Gray is definitely intended for serious Civil War strategists. This is not to say that the game cannot be enjoyed by the casual gamer, but the steep learning curve will need to be tackled before the true quality and enjoyment of the title will be discovered. The interface is intuitive and certainly easy on the eyes, and the excellent period soundtrack adds even more polish to the overall experience. Of all of the Civil War period pieces I've played to date, AACW is certainly the best one I've played on the PC. If this game type is your "cup of tea," then you will certainly enjoy what this turn-based strategy title can have to offer.

Score: 8.0/10

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