American Civil War - The Blue and the Gray First Impressions

This turn-based strategy game essentially packages the entire American Civil War into one ambitious product.


American Civil War - The Blue and the Gray is a fairly rare type of game in this age of real-time strategy. There aren't real-time strategy battles, fancy 3D graphics, or hooks geared toward casual players. Instead, this large-scale turn-based strategy game will offer an incredible amount of control, so much that it's geared toward serious fans of the Civil War or of wargames in general.

The First Battle of Bull Run, as seen through American Civil War.
The First Battle of Bull Run, as seen through American Civil War.

American Civil War looks like it's going to compress the entire Civil War into a fairly elegant package. The game covers the entire eastern half of the United States with a time scale where a single turn encompasses two weeks. Your mission: Take command of the Union or the Confederacy and work your way toward victory, either by destroying the enemy's national morale or by seizing enough key strategic points. When you hit the "next turn" button after issuing all your various orders and commands, the game then simulates the following two weeks, including battles. After the game is done calculating the two-week period, you take stock of the strategic situation and issue new orders.

Since the American Civil War was considered the first industrial war, almost every aspect of the war effort has been modeled here, including economics, politics, and historical events. For example, if you recruit units, you'll drain money and supplies from your reserve. You can raise money by enacting various policies, such as an income tax. There's a certain point in the game where an income tax will kick in automatically (because it happened historically), but you can enact it even earlier if you're willing to pay the political price. Diplomacy also plays a role, because the South is desperate to get England and France into the war.

One particularly nice twist deals with the political standing of generals. The perfect example is General McClellan for the North, a popular general that President Lincoln couldn't easily get rid off, even though McClellan constantly failed to push his advantage against the South. Generals in the game have political ratings, and if you lose or fire one, your national morale will take a hit. So firing McClellan at the start of a game and replacing him with General Grant won't work, because the morale hit will be so large that the North will lose the game. The amount of historical detail is fairly impressive, as the game seems to have every unit and notable officer, right down to their nicknames. The visual presentation takes place on a colorful, hand-drawn map that looks appropriate for the period, and the soundtrack features songs from the era, all played on historically appropriate instruments.

There is a lot of data at your fingertips.
There is a lot of data at your fingertips.

The interface seems complex, but at its heart it features a relatively simple drag-and-drop system. If there's an army or a general icon on the map, just pick it up and drop it at your desired location, and the game will find the most optimal path. Keep in mind that in those days, marching an army across a large distance could easily take weeks, but there are shortcuts. You can direct your army to use any nearby railroad or river transport to speed up the journey considerably, though the game models the limited number of locomotives and the infrastructure of the era, particularly for the South. It's simply impossible to move all of your units by rail, because there weren't enough trains back then to do it.

There's quite a bit more to The Blue and the Gray, but considering the size and scale of the Civil War, as well as its lasting impact on the American psyche, that seems appropriate. This looks like a game that hardcore fans of the Civil War may look forward to. It'll ship early next year.

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