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American Civil War - The Blue and the Gray (PC) artwork

American Civil War - The Blue and the Gray (PC) review


"The Blue and the Gray is a turn-based strategy title spanning the length of the Civil War. As the player, you may freely chose to command the armies of either the Union in the north, or the Confederate States in the south, and indeed, one of the more interesting features to any student of history is the ability to play through the entire war and win as the Confederates...Unfortunately, what I found is, well...a little too much simulation and not enough video game. You might enjoy it - provided you're a huge civil war aficionado with immense patience. The thing is, I would normally check these boxes for myself and, as such, can’t recommend this one."



As a student of history, even a Canadian one, I'd be a fool if I didn't know a bit about the American Civil War. It's an interesting period in North American history that had lasting social and political repercussions on the United States and her neighbours, some of which are still visible a century and a half later. Unsurprisingly, the American Civil War has also become the focus of a few new historical war games.

Tonight, gentle readers, we look at one such game: AGEod's American Civil War: The Blue and the Gray.

The Blue and the Gray, or TBG as my ongoing attempts to save on keyboards insist I abbreviate to, is a turn-based strategy title spanning the length of the Civil War. As the player, you may freely chose to command the armies of either the Union in the north, or the Confederate States in the south, and indeed, one of the more interesting features to any student of history is the ability to play through the entire war and win as the Confederates.

Of course maybe that's just my inner history geek talking.

But TBG takes a good deal of getting in to. I couldn't actually finish the tutorial - a few too many hours of sitting, clicking and reading long-winded text boxes for me. I like my tutorials quick and practical. Unfortunately, TBG is a bit too complex to be covered in a quick crash-course. The game menu is filled with numbers, symbols, buttons and abbreviations half of which I don't even know what they mean thanks to the huge overkill of overly-complex stats ganging up and blackjacking my brain into submission. Forging on ahead and relying on only my wits found a game that plays very like a digital version of the kind of board game an obsessive-compulsive would design, with too much emphasis on simulating reality and not enough on enjoyment.

But persevere I did! Driven on by my inner geek and determined to prove my label as “the nerdy one who plays all the strategies” correct, I plunged into the scenarios. Most of you will have heard of the The Seven Days Battle near the beginning of the war[Edit: fine, most of you who aren’t ignorant Englishmen – happy, EmP?]. Historically, the Union tried to take the Confederate capital at Richmond, but were beaten back by the Southern forces. Taking control of the Union forces gives you the chance to re-write history on the privacy of you computer monitor: take Richmond in five turns or under and deal a crushing blow to the Confederates that might have ended the war early. Alternatively, you can bat on the side of historic accuracy and instead defend the city for five turns, rewarding you a Confederate victory.

Interestingly, unlike most games, you don’t have your forces broken down in the form of individualistic specialist units like ‘cavalry’ and ‘artillery’, but take command of historically valid armies already containing set elements that you can only control en masse. Whereas you occasional get splinter groups of stand-alone units, the vast majority of your forces will be pre-made and will have to be deployed as such. Generals remain independent from their fighting units, but other elements can be grouped together under them to take advantage of the bonuses a well-made battalion can offer - though armies march at the speed of their slowest unit, which in turn marches at the speed of its slowest element. If need be, you can also request to raise new units on the fly (although both sides have populace caps), but you hold no control of where they appear and they are born devoid of supplies.

For example, a given unit might be comprised of two Infantry elements, one Cavalry and one Artillery element. These elements have different attributes in combat, and while a unit comprised solely of cavalry can move faster than infantry, units must travel at the speed of their slowest element. Thus, most armies find it easier to travel by river or rail, both of which expend your Transport Assets Pool, a numerical assessment of the trains and boats available nationwide. Wear and tear gradually decreases this number, but additional points can be purchased to bring it back up again.

Supplies play an important part in maintaining a healthy army. Units carry enough food for two turns and enough ammunition for two battles. They can replenish at settlements, but supply wagons act as mobile stockpiles. They also make high-profile targets for the enemy. Should your units run out of supply they will automatically "forage", raiding farms and croplands for resources. Chance to succeed depends on terrain, development of the land, time of year. If they fail, they accumulate penalties and incur casualties.

There are different terrain types and different effects on how long they take to move, bonuses and penalties to attackers depending on time, location and unit type. Hide bonuses, defence bonuses, encampment bonuses. There's even something called Cohesion that accumulates as armies spend turns in the field; it’s decreased faster by forced marches and slowed by rail or naval transport.

Stats! So many bloody stats!

The time soon came where my patience was exhausted. Noteworthy mainly because I am normally very patient (blame my Canadian upbringing). I'm no stranger to steep learning curves, sluggish turns and intensive micromanagement - after all, I'm one of the proud few who enjoy a game of Space Empires or Battlecruiser Millennium after supper. But The Blue and the Gray is simply too much for even me to handle. Don't get me wrong, it's a solid game, and it does most of the right things without relying on gimmicks like fancy 3-D models or shiny animated battles, both of which add to the "board game" feel; in fact, the game interface is nothing but a scrollable map with rivers, railways, roads, and cities, dotted with card-shaped icons representing armies and generals. This, certainly, is commendable, and I've always been an advocate of graphics over gameplay.

Unfortunately, what I found is, well...a little too much simulation and not enough video game. You might enjoy it - provided you're a huge civil war aficionado with immense patience. The thing is, I would normally check these boxes for myself and, as such, can’t recommend this one.

Rating: 4/10

WilltheGreat's avatar
Freelance review by Will Roy (September 18, 2007)

Will likes spaceships, strategy, and blowing things up through careful plans and meticulous atrocities that all come from inside his dangerous mind. He has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.

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