Battles of the American Civil War Volume Two is
a most businesslike title, promising a solid and no-nonsense
historical simulation for the serious battle re-enactor.
The software comes packaged in a card folder identical
to that of Battles in Normandy and Russia,
with a high-quality colour map of the five battle sites
and a chunky 48-page rulebook. Trimmings are cards depicting
flowcharts of the game, design and start menus and a
strip of pre-printed game save disk labels. The physical
components offered for the price give an impression
concerns itself with five important battles from the
middle years of the war, from Gaines Mill in June 1862
to Chattanooga in November 1863, and includes a two-part
recreation of the three-day Gettysburg battle, the turning-point
of the war. Doubtless Volume Three will follow with
the closing stages of the war.
a considerable quantity of closely-printed words in
the rulebook, and a full summary of the background to
and historical course of each featured battle, there
is no explanation of the circumstances behind the American
Civil War itself. This is an unfortunate omission in
a game with such a thoroughly historical approach, and
the battles are difficult to put into context without
a basic background. The designers of Decisive Battles
tend to assume a reasonable knowledge of the American
Civil War on the part of the player, although there
is a brief general introduction.
first scenario in Volume Two is the battle of Gaines
Mill, which took place on the 27th June 1862. The background
notes begin 'During McClellan's retreat from Richmond
. . .' Who is McClellan? Which side is he on? What happened
at Richmond? Where, indeed, is Richmond? Independent
research on your part is certainly needed to make the
most sense out of these scenarios, and to put the excellently
detailed accounts of the battles into context.
battles are recreated on a large scale, in both time
and space. Turns cover a single hour, and map hexes
contain individual buildings. The fighting units are
divided into Corps and subdivided into Brigades, though
the structure of command is not really spelled out in
the rulebook, and it takes a bit of searching and deduction
to make sense of it. Anyone unaccustomed to SSG games
will realise as soon as they glance through the rulebook
that they will have to be prepared to invest a fair
amount of time in studying the orders structure. There
is a tutorial which takes the player through the first
turn of the 'Gettysburg' scenario, but it is not sufficiently
explanatory to allow you to carry on with the rest of
the game with confidence.
series of branching menus deal with orders, information
and game options. There are a few choices to be made
before the start of play. Six scenarios are offered:
Gaines Mill, Stones River, Gettysburg Part One and Two,
Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Given the precise historical
details and the large scale of the simulation there
is no option to string these together into a 'make up
your own Civil War' scenario, but there is an amazingly
comprehensive facility to edit them out of all recognition.
Historically sensible variations are suggested in the
rulebook, but every aspect can be altered and -- with
a graphics editor facility too, that allows you to redraw
map icons and units pixel by pixel -- Decisive Battles
effectively doubles up as a wargame construction kit,
more flexible and thorough than the SSI Wargame Construction
Kit reviewed last month.
game can be played with or without hidden movement,
and with or without radio contact. There was, of course,
no radio contact between brigades on the field and the
army HQ in the 1860s, and the commander did not have
X-ray vision either; for an authentic atmosphere, 'exposed'
and 'radio' should be left unselected. The player can
choose to give a slight, minor or major advantage to
either side and in addition can select the 'enhanced'
option which gives the computer-controlled forces bonuses
for a really difficult game. Finally, the player can
decide whether he wants to lead the forces of the Union
North or the Confederate South.
screen display is not particularly artistic, but the
map is supplemented by the supplied map, and an option
on one of the menus allows access to a wide variety
of information about each hex. The 'map hex' feature
calls up the cover value, movement point cost and 'line
of sight' value of each feature. Many of the hexes contain
individual named buildings. This single cursor-controlled
facility also displays full statistical information
about friendly brigades, which is as extensive as you
would expect in a detailed wargame of this kind.
dotted about the landscape, and flashing on and off
to make themselves conspicuous, are the 'objectives'.
These are the all-important strategic hexes whose capture
means success, and which make the gameplay of SSG wargames
characteristically more realistic than others which
calculate the winner in terms of dead bodies. Combat
losses are taken into account in the final summing up
stage, but the number of victory points gained from
capturing and holding objectives are more important
in determining the outcome. Each objective is worth
a certain number of victory paints per turn, and a bonus
may be awarded for holding it at the end of the game.
It usually does not become active until some turns into
the game, and may cease to be important after some turns
more. There are even a few objectives which yield no
victory points at all; perhaps they are included simply
to indicate strategically useful positions to the player.