This is a game I discovered from a geeklist. For the Geeklist, people were suppose to post the highest rated game from the year of their birth. I looked mine up, and the winner was Axis & Allies. This game was in the #3 position, and I thought that it looked very interesting. I became even more interested in the game when I learned of the Mayfair reprint. This remained high on a list of games that I wanted to play, but uncertainty of how my wife might like it kept me from getting it. However, a friend found himself with a copy and he was kind enough to give it to us. So is this another one of the rare war games that my wife likes?
Please note, this overview is going to follow the basic rules only. This is a game of the American civil war where one player plays the north and the other plays the south. Each turn a players goes through up to four steps. First, they move. To move a player rolls a die (with 1 results counting as a 2). The roll is how many move orders a player gets. Movement is point to point, and when a player uses a move order it applies to all units present at that point. Units can move 1 or 2 spaces depending on a number of variables.
After a player has moved combat may result if they have moved units into a location containing enemy units. For combat the involved units are lined up off the board and the defender gets to roll first. The defender positions their units in front of the enemy units they wish to target. Dice are then rolled. All units have a target number (1-3) printed on them. If the die roll is equal to or less than this number it is a hit. Full strength units turned to their injured side on one hit. Injured units are removed and returned to either the promotion pool or recruitment pool. The attacker then repeats the same procedure. After the first round of combat players have the option of reinforcing by having adjacent units move in or they have the option to retreat. Combat continues until one side retreats or is eliminated.
Next a player gets to make promotions. If they won a battle then one unit gets promoted for free Milita units (attack strength of 2 or 1) can get promoted to a veteran unit and veteran units get promoted to crack units. In addition to victory promotions, a player also gets one free promotion.
Finally, the players gets to reinforce. Milita units removed from combat or from promotion are placed in a recruitment pool. The player rolls a die (again a 1 counts as a 2)and they can add up to that many reinforcements to the board. These reinforcements must be added to a recruitment city they control, designated by a number printed in the space. The total number of these numbers printed in recruitment cities also limits how many units in total a side may have on the board. If the opposing side occupies one of these recruitment cities, then the unit max drops. There are neutral cities and cities that start in enemy territory that can raise that limit.
The Union player goes first following these steps, and then the confederate player following the same steps. After both players take a turn the round moves to the next month and play continues in the same fashion. If the game last 40 rounds the south wins by default. The north wins if they capture the 8 large cities in the south (designated by a 2 or 3 recruitment number). The south can also win if they capture Washington DC or manage to get their max army limit higher than the north's.
The Game We Played
My wife took her opening move to use her unit in Harper's Ferry to reinforce Washington DC. She then moved one of her DC units far south to the Union held position of Pensicola. I responded by consolidating my Virginia forces and moving into Harper's Ferry. I also moved the Texas Militia in the direction of Mobile.
In the next month, union forces attacked in Missouri and eliminated the confederate defenders. In response, I continued to March North into Gettysburg. I also attacked the union defenders of Pensacola and got them out of the South.
On the next turn my wife had a low movement roll. I was surprised that her large force in D.C. stayed put, instead she moved the Western army she had amassed down towards Memphis. I struck and sacked Baltimore, as well as began moving my forces in the deep south towards Memphis.
The next turn saw my wife with another low roll and she once again kept her forces in DC tied up. Since it was unopposed, my army struck against Philadelphia, while I built up reinforcements in Richmond to keep my wife nervous of a D.C. attack.
At this point, my wife realized her dire straights. From Philadelphia my army could strike multiple Eastern sea board cities. If I took just one of them, I would plunge her max army size below mine and win the game. With no choice, she moved and fought my army in Philadelphia. I had been promoting units there so it was quite strong, but so was her D.C. based army. It was a very hard fight, but eventually the confederacy retreated. She left behind a small defense at Washington D.C. and a high movement roll allowed me to get a small attacking force into it. She had bad dice rolls for this fight, and I had good ones. This mean in the November/December of 1861 The South won the war.
My Rating: 4 (like it)
My Thoughts: Axis and Allies might be the better rated game from 1981, but when it comes to accessible, operational level war games this is my game of choice. I love how incredibly accessible this game is. I like how this delivers the historical flavor of the war, but the rules are not so tight that it only produces an exact simulation of the actual event. Obviously, the battle of of Philadelphia did not happen but when war games allow for ahistorical events to occur I really like that. Of course, we only played with the base rules. I am sure the optional rules add extra historical chrome, and I would be fine with that as well. Giving the players the framework to craft the game to their liking is a huge strength for me.
Her Rating: 2 (do not care for it)
Her Thoughts: I felt very limited in what I could do, and I was never quite sure exactly what I should do. I kind of felt like there was too much to do and I did not have the means to do any of it! Some of that is probably inexperience, but it did make for a negative experience. This may not be a bad game, but it is not a game for me.
Combined Rating: 6
I was really hoping the accessibility of the rules meant this would be a game my wife might enjoy. I think the scale might be the big draw back for her. The war game she does enjoy are all tactical in scale with very clear objectives. I think the more open nature of an operational game like this just does not connect with her. On the other hand, I really liked this game and want to play it more. The game comes in a relatively small box, so I plan on holding on to it so that I can get more plays in. However, since my wife is less than enthusiastic to play it might take a while. . .